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Commonwealth government offers no help when closing office

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 6, 2010) - Now jobless, at least six long-time civil service employees of the newly-closed Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Division of Immigration are weighing their options that may include suing the government for leaving them in limbo.

Roman M. Tudela Jr., who serves as spokesperson of the group, said they were not given an opportunity to transfer to other local agencies or to file for retirement.

"We would like to give the government until today to answer my letter about the closing of the Immigration office. We are not asking for more. Filing a lawsuit is our last resort. We would like to settle this matter as peaceful as possible," Tudela told Saipan Tribune in a phone interview yesterday.

Tudela worked at the CNMI Division of Immigration for over 19 years.

He wrote a letter to Attorney General Edward T. Buckingham on Jan. 4, a few days after Buckingham issued a memorandum officially stating that the CNMI Division of Immigration has ceased operations.

The office closure came a little over a month since the federal government took over control of CNMI immigration on Nov. 28 pursuant to U.S. Public Law 110-229 or the Consolidated Natural Resources Act.

Tudela said while the attorney general's memo mentioned that the office "has finally come to a conclusion," he said he is "still in limbo on the status of my employment."

"There are about five other long-time civil service employees who were never formally informed of our future in the CNMI government after such closure of the Department of Interior (DOI)," Tudela told Buckingham.

As of yesterday, Tudela has yet to receive a response from the attorney general.

"I understand times have been very challenging and we are all busy during this transition mode with federalization of CNMI immigration, but I feel I deserve the respect and the right to be addressed properly as CNMI government civil service employee," Tudela said.

He also gave a copy of his letter to Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos, House Speaker Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan), Senate President Pete P. Reyes (R-Saipan), and Personnel director Francisco S. Ada.

Acting press secretary Teresa Kim earlier said that the government has worked to get as many people as possible placed into alternate jobs.

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 the governor 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.

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.

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