First CNMI Nonvoting Delegate to Congress Gives Report

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Sablan says he achieved all five of his high priority goals

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, July 1, 2014) – Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) spelled out his five high-priority goals starting out in Congress, all of which have been attained—from getting back the CNMI’s submerged lands to increased food aid and education funding. Sablan also wished that members of the CNMI Legislature did more research before coming up with an anti-immigration reform resolution that made the islands "look a little foolish" in Washington, D.C.

Sablan, at the invitation of the Legislature, delivered yesterday a 44-minute report on milestones that he and his office have reached since becoming the first and so far only CNMI nonvoting delegate to the U.S. Congress.

The five top goals he has set out to work on and eventually attained are: 1) getting back submerged lands; 2) making the transition to federal immigration as "least difficult" as possible; 3) keeping the minimum wage going up without hurting the people who earn minimum wage; 4) getting families in the CNMI the same food aid that other Americans get; and 5) increasing federal funding for education.

His most pointed statements were directed at members of the CNMI Legislature that supported Rep. Felicidad Ogumoro’s (R-Saipan) House Resolution 18-34, which asked Congress to scrap from any pending national immigration reform bills a provision that would grant a pathway to improved immigration status for long-term, legal aliens in the CNMI, among other things.

Sablan sent a copy of the resolution to the Congressional Research Service for analysis, the results of which discredit the Ogumoro resolution’s three broad claims against Sablan’s language in S. 744.

One, the Consolidated Natural Resources Act or the law that placed CNMI immigration under federal control does not violate the Covenant.

Two, S. 744 with Sablan’s language does not amend Section 506 of the Covenant. Sablan said the CNRA repealed Section 506 and therefore it cannot be amended because "it no longer exists."

"When Members of Congress see this obvious legal error, again, Resolution 18-34 loses credibility," he said.

Three, Sablan said the claim that Section 2109 of the U.S. Senate immigration reform bill gives "green cards" or U.S. citizenship to aliens is "simply false."

The U.S. Congressional Research Service says Section 2109 "does not automatically grant any status to any long-term foreign resident of the CNMI."

"Again, House Resolution 18-34 got it wrong," Sablan said in his address.

The delegate said anyone can have an opinion about public policy but when CNMI legislators send a formal, legal document to the U.S. vice president and the U.S. House speaker "that is so full of mistakes, you make us all look a little foolish."

"I wish you had been more careful. I wish you had held a hearing on your resolution—before you voted. Maybe these mistakes could have been avoided," he said.

In the end, Sablan said he understands the "real fear" behind H.R. 18-34, which is that "more and more voters in the Marianas are not Chamorros or Carolinians."

But he said the CNMI should remember it’s not because of federal immigration law but because of a CNMI Legislature bill that was passed and enacted 30 years ago.

Ogumoro, in an interview after the joint session, said the CNMI needs a delegate "that really strongly supports and fights for the rights of the people of the Commonwealth, and one that communicates very closely with the leaders of the CNMI."

"I stand by my resolution and I commend the House for passing it," Ogumoro told Saipan Tribune.

The full text of Sablan’s speech, detailing his hard work for the CNMI and its people, is available online.

But in some instances where he veered away from his prepared speech, Sablan pointed at differences he had with Gov. Eloy S. Inos on education funding, while at the same time considered these as opportunities to work together.

In yet another deviation from his prepared speech, Sablan announced that he will not sponsor a legislation that will "shortcut" the National Environmental Protection Act, or NEPA, process when it comes to the impact of military plans for the CNMI.

Col. Philip J. Zimmerman, officer-in-charge for the U.S. Marine Corps Activity Guam, the ranking military official in attendance at the SOCA yesterday, said he concurs with Sablan’s statement "wholeheartedly" about not shortcutting the NEPA process.

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