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Federal agents now flown in as needed

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, August 1, 2009) – Sen. Paul A. Manglona (Ind-Rota) is seeking a permanent presence of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Rota and Tinian, citing its convenience, efficiency and practicality, instead of flying federal personnel down from Saipan to the two outer islands every time passengers arrive at the ports and need to be inspected.

Manglona stressed this on Thursday when he raised concerns with Commonwealth Ports Authority executive director Efrain F. Camacho's June 26 letter to CBP San Francisco field operations director Richard Vigna.

"In your letter to Mr. Vigna, it appears that CPA has minimized the importance of having CBP personnel stationed on the islands of Rota and Tinian. It has been suggested that CBP 'fly personnel down' as needed for chartered flights," Manglona told Camacho in a July 30 letter.

Camacho is currently off island and CPA officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

The senator asked Camacho on unscheduled arrivals, particularly private sailing vessels entering Rota and Tinian harbors, especially since Vigna, he said, stated that "the admissibility of each individual arriving at a port shall only be determined by a CBP officer."

Customs and Border Protection is the largest component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which will take over CNMI immigration by Nov. 28.

"Without CBP 'boots on the ground' this would mean that for all incoming flights, private or commercial, and for any seagoing vessels entering the ports of Rota or Tinian, CBP would have to fly their personnel into our islands, seriously delaying and inconveniencing visitors to our islands. In my opinion, it would be much more practical to have a permanent CBP presence on Rota and Tinian," Manglona said.

Rota has seen over 30 charter flights arrive from Japan over the past year, and Tinian continues to push for direct international flights from China.

"For the continuation of these flights, and to bring in additional charters, it will be necessary to have a CBP presence on island. Without their presence, we may be sending a negative message to carriers which may, in turn, lead them to discontinuing service and look toward Guam as a transit point for those wishing to visit our islands," Manglona added.

Camacho, during a special CPA board meeting last week, told board members that CBP wants to use a significant portion of the airport to build its home station when federal authorities take over local immigration on Nov. 28.

He said the request involves access to the existing immigration area plus an additional 15,000 square feet and other areas for Saipan airport alone. The federal agency requested the same for airport sites on Rota and Tinian. CPA said improvements to these facilities will require substantial costs, and will wait for the arrival of two CBP representatives to discuss details of the site request.

Manglona said CBP has specifically asked federal inspection services space at Rota and Tinian airports and seaports.

He encouraged CPA to work with CBP to identify funding to upgrade its facilities on Rota and Tinian that have been identified by CBP's Vigna, adding that the federal agency stated it may fund some or all of the numerous build-outs, reconfigurations and/or construction required to bring federal inspection services space into compliance with CBP's requirements and standards.

Manglona said 702 funding or Federal Aviation Administration airport improvement project monies might be used for this purpose.

"I am very much aware of CPA's precarious financial position, but I sincerely hope that this will not derail efforts to deploy U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers on the islands of Rota and Tinian," Manglona said.

He added that his office is open to CPA should it need the Legislature's help in the upgrading the port facilities on Saipan, Tinian and Rota to meet CPB standards and requirements.

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