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Seeks ports of entry on three islands

By Gemma Q. Casas SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Oct. 5, 2009) –THE federal government is interested in acquiring property at different ports of entry on Saipan, Tinian and Rota, including at the commonwealth prison on Saipan, ahead of its anticipated takeover of the islands’ immigration system.

Howard P. Willens, the governor’s special legal counsel, drafted the commonwealth’s protocol for the implementation of U.S. Public Law 110-229, which will federalize local immigration starting on Nov. 28.

He said there have been preliminary discussions regarding the federal government’s potential acquisition of property at the different seaports and airports on the three main islands of the CNMI.

Willens said the San Francisco field office of the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection advised that pertinent U.S. laws and regulations require that the Commonwealth Ports Authority and the international airlines serving the local airports provide the needed space for immigration processing at no cost to CBP.

CPA expressed its willingness to work with CBP but noted its own financial limitations.

Willens said CPA told CBP that about 15,000 square feet of space that CBP is considering is already leased to the Duty Free Shop and the lease cannot be terminated without providing comparable space to the tenant.

Discussions between CPA and CBP on the issue of space continue.

"The commonwealth plans to vacate its immigration [but not its customs or quarantine] space at the three airports, and that space will be available to CBP on terms to be negotiated. The commonwealth does not plan to displace any existing lessee occupying any space at any of the airports to make room for CBP," the protocol manual stated.

"Other DHS entities will need to be houses elsewhere, as airport space is at a premium. [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] and its outsourced contractor personnel are already housed in privately owned office space on Beach Road in Garapan," it added.

A DHS agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is separately holding talks with the local government to obtain correctional facilities to be used for persons violating U.S. immigration law.

The new state-of-the-art prison facility on Saipan was built using federal funds.

Willens said the CNMI will observe the protocol in the smooth exchange of information relevant to immigration and border security.

However, he stressed that the CNMI does not plan to provide any of its equipment or telecommunications for the use of DHS and its allied agencies.


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