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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Mariana Variety, June 4) - Governor Benigno R. Fitial returned to the CNMI over the weekend after a brief meeting with Senator Daniel Akaka and key staff members of Senator Daniel Inouye to ask their help amid moves in the U.S. Congress to federalize the islands’ immigration system.

Akaka, D-Hawai‘i, chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Natural Park Historic Preservation and Recreation as well as the Subcommittee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Inouye, D-Hawai‘i, is the third most senior member of the Senate after fellow Democrats Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Ted Kennedy of Massachussetts.

Press Secretary Charles P. Reyes Jr. said Fitial was able to personally meet with Akaka but not with Inouye who sent his key staff members to meet with the governor.

"(The governor) did meet with Senator Daniel Akaka and key staff members of Senator (Daniel) Inouye. They spoke about the CNMI situation…our need for assistance and (the governor provided) a first person account about security issues," Reyes told Variety.

He added. "They do have the sympathy for the islands. They are from the Pacific... Historically, the Democrats have been the champions of the little guy like the CNMI. And we are facing a very difficult economic situation."

He said the administration has been left in the dark regarding the NMI federalization draft bill, the Northern Mariana Islands Covenant Implementation Act, which was supposed to be introduced in the U.S. Senate.

"I don’t know," Reyes said when asked about the bill’s status.

The administration is opposed to the measure, which would grant certain long-term alien workers immigration status similar to what Micronesians enjoy.

The administration also opposed the federal wage hike rate that was recently enacted into law because it applied to the CNMI which has been paying its private sector workers US$3.05 an hour since 1996.

The new law increases by US$2.10 the federal minimum wage of US$5.15 within 26 months.

The CNMI’s wage rate will increase by 50 cents to US$3.55 within 60 days from May 25.

It will then increase by 50 cents after a year and every year until it reaches the new national wage rate of US$7.25.

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