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Homeland Security unable to obtain information

By Gemma Q. Casas SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, May 10, 2010) - The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is facing obstacles in carrying out its duties, particularly in verifying the status of aliens in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), because the commonwealth continues to refuse to share vital information with the federal government.

The General Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress, also said in its 88-page report that a policy-review is underway to determine if Russia and China could be included in the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program.

Currently, DHS temporarily allows nationals from these two countries into the CNMI without a visa under its secretary’s parole authority.

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which is under the Executive Office of the President, already published a notice amending DHS regulations on the joint visa waiver program for the Marianas.

The final action on these proposed amended regulations is set for Nov. 2010.

"Despite the DHS components’ progress in establishing federal border control in the CNMI, their inability to conclude negotiations with the CNMI government regarding access to airport space, detention facilities and CNMI databases has resulted in continuing operational challenges," said David Gootnick, GAO’s director for International Affairs and Trade.

"First, lacking occupancy agreements with the CNMI, [U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)] officers have continued to operate in CNMI airport space that does not meet the agency’s facility standards. Second, lacking an agreement with the CNMI government regarding detention space, [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)] has released a number of aliens with criminal records into the CNMI community under orders of supervision and has paid to transport several detainees to Guam and Hawaii," he added.

Third, Gootnick said CBP’s lack of access to the CNMI’s Border Management System, a federally funded alien database system, limits the ability of ICE "to quickly verify the status of aliens and compromising the security of ongoing operations."

GAO recommends that the DHS secretary work with the heads of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, CBP and ICE to establish strategic approaches and time frames for concluding negotiations with the CNMI government, and "resolve the operational challenges related to access to CNMI airport space, detention facilities, and information about the status of aliens."

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