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Immigration takeover, minimum wage hike among wrongs

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Feb. 1, 2011) – Given his druthers, Senate Vice President Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) would have the U.S. government compensate the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) millions of dollars to mitigate the negative impacts of recent federal actions on the local economy-actions that include takeover of local immigration, minimum wage increases, and lifting of world trade quotas that led to the death of Saipan's once booming garment industry.

Hofschneider pre-filed yesterday afternoon a resolution to express precisely this sentiment.

His Senate Resolution 17-39 urges Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan to draft legislation for direct appropriations of money and assistance to the CNMI to meet U.S. obligations it made in the Covenant.

Hofschneider said this promise is for the U.S. government to assist the Commonwealth government "in its efforts to achieve a progressively higher standard of living for its people as part of the American economic community. The U.S. federal government is, based on these increasingly negative economic figures, failing to meet its obligation to the CNMI. Until the U.S. government realizes its obligations pursuant to the Covenant, the health and welfare of the people of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is in jeopardy," he said.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial himself sued the U.S. government over the federal takeover of the Commonwealth immigration.

Hofschneider listed in his resolution the series of federal decisions that continue to negatively impact the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands economy, starting with changes to tariff rules under the World Trade Organization (WTO) that resulted in the CNMI losing its competitive advantage as a garment manufacturing area.

The senator cited a 1999 study commissioned by the U.S. Office of Insular Affairs showing that 80 percent of the Commonwealth's employment and 90 percent of its export income comes directly from garment manufacturing and tourism.

He said, the Government Accountability Office estimates that whether the number of nonimmigrant workers-20,000 in 2007-is reduced by 95 percent, 40 percent or 15 percent, such a drop could cause a decrease in the CNMI's gross domestic product by 73 percent, 85 percent, and 98 percent, respectively.

Congress also federalized minimum wage and immigration in 2007 and 2008, respectively, "based in part on the discredited analysis that foreign labor prevented employment in the U.S. citizen population," he said.

The Commonwealth's business gross revenue fell from a high of US$2.6 billion in 1997 to US$1.5 billion in 2007, the year the U.S. minimum wage was implemented in the CNMI. The islands' Bureau of Governmental Research further dropped to US$1 billion in 2009.

Hofschneider also said that U.S. Public Law 110-229, which placed CNMI immigration under federal control, requires the Interior secretary to make recommendations to the U.S. Congress on providing improved legal status to guest workers in the Commonwealth.

"A change in legal status will create new entitlements for guest workers and responsibilities on behalf of the CNMI government. These recent changes in the law have had a devastating effect on the Commonwealth economy and on real wages of U.S. citizens in the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands," he said.

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