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Fitial wants federalization of immigration amended

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 5, 2011) – In the Northern Mariana Islands, Governor Benigno R. Fitial wants the now Republican-dominated U.S. Congress to amend the federal law that placed Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) immigration under federal control, so that taxes paid to federal agencies by Commonwealth employers and residents could be returned or "covered over" to the local government.

He said his administration is now awaiting the installation of the members of the 112th U.S. Congress, including Commonwealth Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan, on Jan. 5 in Washington, D.C. (or Jan. 6 on Saipan).

The governor, who wants to go back to the CNMI Republican Party, said some provisions of U.S. Public Law 110-229 are "unnecessary and punitive."

These include an "amendment of the Covenant so as to require that the immigration and naturalization fees by Commonwealth employers and residents to the federal government would not be returned to the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands government." He said this is unlike Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"I do not see why the Commonwealth was treated in this discriminatory manner by Congress," Fitial said in his written Dec. 30 State of the Commonwealth report to the CNMI Legislature.

Besides amending the federalization law, the governor also called for other legislative relief needed to bolster the local economy.

The governor, who returned from Guam yesterday morning, said this provision was added to the House version of the bill that became PL 110-229 "long after all the congressional hearings were held and no one in the Commonwealth had a chance to protest this amendment until both Houses had acted on the proposed legislation."

PL 110-229 or the Consolidated Natural Resources Act was signed into law in May 2008, and took effect on Nov. 28, 2009.

Fitial, in his May and September 2010 testimony in U.S. Congress, asked a subcommittee to consider three amendments to the Consolidated Natural Resources Act: 1. Repeal of the elimination of the Covenant's cover-over provision relating to immigration and naturalization fees paid in the CNMI; extend the period of time for umbrella permits to remain in force, from two years to four years; and extend the transition period from the end of 2014 to the end of 2019.

"Cover over" refers to the return to local governments of taxes paid to federal agencies by residents of insular areas.

He had said without "cover over," the CNMI is denied "tens of millions of dollars over time-and places the full financial burden of applying the immigration laws on the Commonwealth and its residents rather than assumed by the nation as a whole whose national security was believed to require this congressional action."

The governor said in December he would like to meet with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano early this year. So far, there's no schedule for such trip in Washington, D.C.

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