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Pinoys slam CNMI lawsuit vs enforcement of immigration law

September 14, 2008 9:56pm
CAPITAL HILL, Saipan – Filipino groups decry the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) lawsuit filed Friday against the United States government over a law that will put local immigration under federal control.

Foreign workers say the “federalization" law is more protective of alien contract workers’ rights and will give them a better immigration status such as “green card" or permanent residency.

The law is supposed to take effect by as early as June 2009, but the implementing regulations have yet to be finalized.

The CNMI government lawsuit seeks injunctive relief to prevent the federal government from enforcing the law that puts local immigration under federal control.

Ronnie Doca, president of the Pilipino Contract Workers Association Inc. or PILCOWA, and Irene Tantiado, the newly installed president of the United Workers Movement NMI, told GMANews.TV that their groups may stage a rally to protest the filing of the lawsuit.

“The lawsuit is a waste of time and money," said Doca.

Florenda Miranda, president of the United Filipino Organization (UFO), said the UFO is keen on supporting a rally opposing the lawsuit.

Tantiado, of Cebu, said the lawsuit is only a delay tactic by the CNMI government to prevent the federal government from taking over local labor and immigration. The lawsuit, she added, scares away prospective investors to the islands.

“The CNMI government’s concerns were heard and considered before the law was passed and signed and now they’re trying to question it again," she said.

CNMI Representative Tina Sablan, who has been sympathetic to the cause of foreign workers on the islands, said she’s “disgusted" with the filing of the lawsuit.

“I’m disgusted that the lawsuit is still a priority of the administration even if basic services (like power and education) are falling apart. Lawmakers are not endorsing funding the lawsuit; we wonder where he’ll get the funding for the lawsuit," Sablan told GMANews.TV.

Doca echoed Sablan’s concerns. “They should prioritize power and water," he said.

The lawsuit costs about $500,000 which, according to Sablan, could go a long way in buying fuel for power generators and help in the education of students.

But CNMI Governor Benigno R. Fitial said he will not use any funds currently available for public services for the lawsuit and will not cut back public services in any way in favor of funding the case.

CNMI residents have been experiencing up to four power outages a day, and each outage lasts from one to eight hours – the most severe power crisis in the history of the islands. Water outages have also been rampant.

Fitial’s counsels filed the 29-page lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C. on Friday, saying the immigration law impedes on the CNMI’s right to self-government.

“We need to know whether the US Congress can legislate in an area reserved for local self-government by our Covenant. The only way to get an answer to this legal question is to turn to the court," said Fitial.

He added, “We can resolve questions of fact by negotiation; and we can resolve questions of policy by negotiation. But we cannot resolve important questions of law except in the court."

The governor said the federal takeover law will not only overturn CNMI labor laws but will also reduce the number of foreign workers to zero.

Proponents of the law, however, say there will never be a mass exit of foreign workers.

The CNMI is home to over 18,000 documented workers, mostly Filipinos and Chinese, because the local manpower is not sufficient to run the private sector.

Named as respondents in the lawsuit, with case number 1:08-cv-01572, are US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff, DHS, US Department of Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and DOL.

Fitial said he does not question the federal government’s right to control CNMI immigration. “But we do not believe that the Congress can simply wipe all our labor laws off the books. In the Covenant, we agreed to a federal takeover of immigration. We did not agree to a federal takeover of labor. However, the filing of a complaint will not affect negotiations."

The CNMI is a commonwealth of the United States in the Western Pacific about three hours away from Manila. It is the only US flag territory that controls its own labor and immigration.