FEDERAL TAKEOVER OF CNMI IMMIGRATION GOING

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Public outreach and training on new laws continue

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Dec. 2, 2009) - From directors to policy advisers, specialists to public affairs officers, over a dozen representatives from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its component agencies have descended on Saipan in days leading up to the federalization of CNMI immigration on November 28.

Many of these officials-mostly based in California, Hawai΄i and Guam-will be here at least until after public outreach programs and training sessions on U.S. immigration law are over.

They have met and will continue to meet with different groups and local agencies, and are often guest speakers at luncheons and meetings to help educate the CNMI about U.S. immigration law and regulations.

These officials have also been here to see for themselves the actual "takeover" of immigration processing at the airport and oversee their operations in the CNMI.

"Things have gone quite well. Lots of representatives here who will report back to DHS," said Alexander Y. Hartman, immigration policy adviser at the DHS Office of Policy Development.

Hartman was among federal officials in a news briefing yesterday at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Application Support Center at the TSL Plaza Building in Garapan.

These visiting officials are in addition to the 42 U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and managers now processing passengers at the Saipan and Rota airports, as well as other federal officers stationed here long before the federalization.

“It’s fairly seamless. We had no problem with our technology,” said CBP port director for Hawai΄i Bruce Murley.

In yesterday’s news briefing originally set for 9am, visiting DHS officials outnumbered the four reporters from three newspapers present.

Besides Hartman and Murley, other officials available to answer media questions included USCIS district director David G. Gulick; Wayne Wills, special agent-in-charge at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of Investigations-Hawaii; and Michael A. Samaniego, assistant field director for ICE’s Detention and Removal Operations.

Also present were CBP interim port director for the CNMI Jerry Aevermann; CBP-San Francisco public affairs liaison Edward Low; ICE public affairs officer Lori K. Haley; and Marie Thérèse Sebrechts, USCIS regional media manager.

After the briefing at the USCIS office, reporters were also invited by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to visit their office at the Marina Heights II Building in Puerto Rico, originally set for 10:30am.

Wills, Samaniego and Haley were also joined by two other ICE officials, including Vida A. Leon Guerrero, detention and deportation officer at the ICE Detention and Removal Operations-Guam.

In another room, other ICE officers were holding a "briefing."

Most of the rooms at the DHS/ICE office on the first floor of the Marina Heights are either still empty or contain only desks and laptops.

After the news briefing, Samaniego gave a tour of the Saipan Immigration Court of the U.S. Department of Justice on the third floor of the same building.

There, assistant chief judge Thomas Y.K. Fong showed the courtroom. Fong will give an open house and orientation presentation for the immigration court at 11am today.

As of yesterday, there were five individuals who were the subject of deportation proceedings, two of them turned over by the local government on Saturday.

Samaniego said they also plan to share the use of the CNMI’s adult correctional facility.

"It’s a work in progress," he said.

Wills said the success of ICE operations in the CNMI also depend on partnerships forged with local government agencies and the community in general.

Today, for example, ICE officers will be visiting maritime communities as part of the agency’s outreach program.

Wills showed yesterday one of their flyers, which ask the public to report "suspicious" activities to (670) 233-0788 or 1(877)DHS-2ICE.

Wills and Samaniego said their priorities at this time are issues of human trafficking, alien smuggling, and financing for these activities.

Wills, however, said the absence of physical addresses in the CNMI poses another "challenge" for both enforcement agencies and those wanting to report suspicious activities.

They also said that they will be partnering with local enforcement agencies like the CNMI Division of Customs.

"We have a lot of expertise within our ranks any time. Once we get grounded, we will partner with the Commonwealth Customs authorities just like we partner with the territory of Guam," Wills said.

Today, USCIS’ Gulick will be the guest speaker at the Saipan Chamber of Commerce. He was the guest speaker in yesterday’s Rotary Club of Saipan meeting.

From December 4 to 12, DHS and its component agencies like USCIS will also be holding training sessions to educate employers and workers about U.S. immigration laws.

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