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U.S. citizens being subjected to lengthy interrogations

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, June 22, 2009) – Senate Pres. Pete P. Reyes (R-Saipan) and House Speaker Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan) have called for an investigation into alleged "harassment" of U.S. citizens and green card holders from the CNMI who are transiting through Guam. They said CNMI travelers are being questioned beyond the scope deemed to be reasonable for entry to or transit on Guam.

One of the most recent cases, according to Reyes and Palacios, involved a green card holder of Japanese descent who was held on Guam for four and a half hours for what appears to be a criminal interrogation.

"He called me from Guam, saying he's embarrassed and was singled out despite showing all his immigration documents. Some people, when they have a badge, think they're God or the whole government. In this case, Guam immigration officer Brian Tablan did just that, holding the CNMI traveler for over four hours at the airport," Reyes told Saipan Tribune in a phone interview on Saturday.

Reyes said his former wife, a U.S. citizen and originally from the Philippines, also went through the same ordeal whenever she transited through the Guam airport despite proving that she had proper documents.

"There are many others who were subjected to this kind of treatment at the Guam airport," he added.

Reyes and Palacios, in a June 3 letter to Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, said this "troubling situation" must be investigated to ensure that the interests of people of the CNMI are protected.

"Governor, we need to let Guam know that we, too, are holding U.S. passports and our passports are issued by the same authority as Guam residents' passports are processed from. The CNMI immigration in the past, now, and into the future will never treat our brothers and sisters from Guam the way residents from the CNMI are being treated there," Palacios and Reyes told Fitial.

Palacios, in a separate interview, said they have yet to hear from Fitial about their letter as of yesterday.

"We need to find a way to stop this practice by any means legally available, perhaps, through the possibility of applying government protocol, legislative resolutions, or other political means. We stand ready to draft a joint resolution if there is a need for it. But the harassment needs to stop," the lawmakers told Fitial.

Press Secretary Charles P. Reyes Jr. said the report is "disconcerting and I expect our administration to share the concerns of the presiding officers of the Legislature."

"As you know, Guam immigration is controlled by the federal government, not the government of Guam," he said.

Guam Gov. Felix P. Camacho, who was given a copy of the lawmakers' letter to Fitial, along with members of the Guam Legislature and CNMI Delegate Gregorio "Kilili" C. Sablan, has yet to respond to Saipan Tribune's request for comment on the issue.

Camacho is expected to be on Saipan this week for the 26th Pacific Islands Environment Conference co-hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the governments of the CNMI, Guam, and American Samoa.

The Senate president said he has also contacted Carlotta Leon Guerrero, chief of staff of Guam Gov. Mike Cruz, on the matter.

"Carlotta said she's been trying to get in touch with the Guam immigration office about this but they have not been returning her calls. Guam immigration officers' sense of arrogance is disturbing. It has to be stopped. If they continue to treat Asians like that, how could they expect Guam to be a final destination for travelers?" he added.

Palacios and Reyes said the May 29 incident at the Guam airport involving a green card holder living in the CNMI felt harassed and wondered why he was being treated in such a manner despite satisfying all pertinent immigration documents.

"Immigration officer Brian Tablan was not only very hostile but also applied abusive language in an attempt to scare the passenger. He felt that the special attention given to him appears to be because he is of Japanese descent. Is this how Japanese Americans are to be treated in Guam? We wonder if we are back again to the previous immigration practices in Guam where CNMI residents are treated like second-class citizens many years ago?" they told the governor.

They added that the Guam immigration officer told the traveler who is a green card holder that if he is to return to the CNMI, he needs to possess employment paperwork.

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