U.S. AGENCY DEFENDS REPORT ON CNMI GUEST

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Gov. Fitial has fought improved status for aliens

By Zaldy Dandan, Editor SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Aug. 2, 2010) –Interior Secretary Ken Salazar defended the report his department submitted to the U.S. Congress, saying its recommendation to grant improved status to CNMI guest workers who have been here for at least five years is "consistent with the goals of comprehensive immigration reform."

In his response to Gov. Benigno R. Fitial’s May 10, 2010 letter, Salazar said while the report provides improved-status options, "it prescribes no specific status or location of the alien’s future residence."

Further, he added, "it is within the discretion of the Congress whether to act on the recommendation and to craft specific legislative language."

No such legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Congress.

CNMI Congressman Gregorio C. Sablan has said that U.S. lawmakers are unlikely to act on immigration this year. He will not support such legislation without consulting first with his constituents "and unless I am convinced the proposed change is in our best interest."

In his letter, Salazar assured Fitial that "Interior devoted a great deal of time and expense in developing" the report, which the governor and CNMI lawmakers have described as "seriously defective."

CNMI officials have also claimed that Interior never consulted them before submitting the report to Congress.

Salazar disagreed.

"The cooperation of your administration was sought by [Interior’s] Office of Insular Affairs, but denied," he said. "Thereafter, department officials began to gather the information requested by…Congress by several means, which were utilized in the report. In addition, the assistant secretary of the Interior for insular affairs personally consulted with you on this report before it was submitted for clearance."

The governor was critical of the data and analysis used by the report, but Salazar said "process and methodology aside, there does not seem to be substantial difference between the [report’s data]…and information contained in the CNMI’s 2009 Annual Report of the Secretary of Labor…published in January 2010."

Regarding the report’s statistics on CNMI’s future alien labor needs, which the governor said are "rebutted by publicly available data and professional economic analysis," Salazar said the figures "are merely an indication of what future alien labor needs might be several years from now."

He added, "In fact, the report’s most salient point on this issue is: ‘It is important to view the numbers [15.9 percent increase in future alien labor need]... as merely indicative of the direction of hiring of alien workers in the CNM1. Because a large number of employers are not represented no legislation should be based on these specific figures."

According to Salazar, his department "fulfilled its obligation under [the federalization law]. The report, therefore, will not be withdrawn," as requested by Fitial.

"However," Salazar added, "in consideration of the views you have expressed. I am taking the liberty of forwarding your letter and enclosures as supplemental information to the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources."

A copy of Salazar’s letter was received by the House committee last week, Variety learned.

Salazar told the governor that he looks "forward to working together on related immigration transition issues."

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