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Delegation interested in impacts of upcoming ‘federalization’

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, August 4, 2009) - The chairman of the powerful U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV), will arrive for the first time on Saipan this Saturday, along with Representative Gregorio Kilili Sablan (D-MP) and other congressional members, to see for themselves the possible impact of federalization on the economy, the local community and foreign workers, among other things.

Thousands of foreign workers calling for improved immigration status and other members of the community are expected to join a peaceful assembly on Sunday, 3 p.m., at the Garapan Fishing Base, to hold an audience with Rahall and other members of the congressional delegation.

The visit of the committee, which has oversight on insular possessions of the U.S., including the CNMI, Guam, American Samoa, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, comes at a critical time, with only a few months before the Nov. 28 start of the Commonwealth's transition to federal immigration system.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has yet to issue, however, federalization regulations on the CNMI-only transitional foreign workers program and foreign investors and students, leaving businesses, guest workers and even the local government in limbo.

Support for an improved immigration status, granting of U.S. permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship are among the issues long-term foreign workers want to take up with the Rahall delegation.

"Since the regulations are not done yet, we want the delegation to help us make sure our requests will be heard and included in the regulations," Rene Reyes, chairman of the Committee on Outreach and Public Information, told Saipan Tribune in an interview yesterday.

This committee is composed of representatives from many of the foreign worker groups in the CNMI as a show of unity, and was formed to welcome the congressional delegates.

"We will request the delegates to push for the implementation of regulations that will stabilize our presence here and keep our families together. We will also ask the delegates to support improved status for us-either in standalone legislation or in a comprehensive bill for national immigration reform," the group said in a separate statement.

Robert Schwalbach, chief of staff of Rep. Gregorio "Kilili" Sablan, confirmed yesterday the arrival of Rahall and Sablan.

In a phone interview, Schwalbach said Rahall's delegation will visit American Samoa and Palau before heading for the CNMI on Saturday, then to Guam.

Schwalbach, who is currently on Saipan for the congressional delegation visit, said Congress is interested in seeing the federalization regulations produced on time and matched with the intent of Public Law 110-229.

"The purpose of a congressional delegation like this is to look at issues that the committee has responsibility for. In this case, on issues that would have to do with the relationship of the federal government with the territories. In the CNMI, they will be looking at how the transition to federal immigration is proceeding. It's important for the committee to understand what it's like here-the economy, the infrastructure, the people," he said.

Besides Rahall and Sablan, other members of the delegation arriving, according to other sources, are Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU), Rep. Donna M. Christensen (D-VI), Rep. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega (D-A. Samoa), and ranking Republican member Rep. Henry E. Brown (R-SC). Brian Modeste, staffer for the U.S. House Sub-Committee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife chaired by Bordallo, is also reportedly joining the delegation.

The visiting U.S. lawmakers call on Gov. Benigno R. Fitial on Monday.

Press secretary Charles P. Reyes Jr. separately said yesterday that Fitial will be happy to meet with visiting congressional leaders.

"He welcomes such visits and looks forward to the opportunity to meet key federal policy makers and discuss pressing CNMI issues," he said.

Organizers of Sunday's peaceful assembly expect a huge crowd similar to the December 2007 "unity march." Rahall's delegation is expected to address the assembly.

The 3pm assembly will be at the Garapan Fishing Base across the street from Kristo Rai Church and Horiguchi Building.

Non-immigrants and U.S. citizens are working together to gather all guest workers, immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, Freely Associated States citizens, U.S. citizen children of non-immigrant parents, members of the business community, CNMI permanent residents, locals and all others who sympathize with the plight of all non-immigrants in the CNMI.

"The regulations for the implementation of CNMI federalization are not published yet. We can still be heard before Nov. 28 comes," the Committee on Outreach and Public Information said.

Rep. Tina Sablan (Ind-Saipan) said yesterday she will also be at the assembly.

The Committee on Outreach and Public Information said many have asked how many guest workers and other non-immigrant permit holders there are in the CNMI.

"We can show our numbers by attending this assembly. We can also show that there really are many people supporting each other for the betterment of this community," it said.

Assembly organizers encourage everyone attending to wear white during the assembly.

The Saipan City Taxi Association will also be providing free transportation going to the assembly.

The pick up points are in front of Pacific Islands Club (PIC) in San Antonio and in front of Aqua Resort Club in San Roque at 30-minute intervals starting from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Sunday.

Carpooling is also encouraged. Donations of drinking water will also be highly appreciated, according to the committee. For those who want to donate, the committee may be reached at 989-3306.

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