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Takeover By U.S. Homeland Security forces closure

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 5, 2010) - The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Division of Immigration under the Office of the Attorney General officially ceased operations effective Dec. 31, a little over a month after the federal government took over local immigration on Nov. 28, Saipan Tribune learned yesterday.

Federalization of local immigration not only marked another chapter in the CNMI's 34-year relationship with the United States, but also leaves American Samoa as the only U.S. territory that controls its own borders.

CNMI Attorney General Edward T. Buckingham issued a memorandum on Dec. 31, officially notifying remaining division employees of the office closure.

"The Division of Immigration has finally come to a conclusion, December 31, 2009. The closure of the office is a difficult and trying period," said Buckingham in his one-page memorandum.

The attorney general thanked all Immigration employees for their "dedication and service" to the CNMI government and its people.

"I commend each of you on a job well done," Buckingham said.

Acting press secretary Teresa Kim, when asked for comment yesterday, said that funding for the Division of Immigration expired on Dec. 31, 2009.

As of yesterday, the Fitial administration has yet to release the specific number of CNMI immigration employees affected by the funding expiration for the office.

"We have worked to get as many people as possible placed into alternate jobs. Some of these efforts were continuing until the last day," Kim said.

She also noted ongoing meetings with CNMI immigration employees to discuss options within the government and options to retire, among other things.

Back in November, there were at least 34 remaining CNMI immigration officers with the division, but Gov. Benigno R. Fitial said at the time that his administration is doing its best to transfer eligible employees to other local agencies such as the Department of Corrections, the Division of Customs Service, or the Labor and Immigration Identification System.

At the stroke of midnight on Nov. 28, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers from different parts of the United States took control of immigration checks at the Saipan and Rota airports, but the first international flight to be processed didn't arrive until past 1am that day.

Federalization of CNMI immigration came about as a result of Public Law 110-229 or the Consolidated Natural Resources Act signed by President Bush on May 8, 2008.

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