Rahall: CNMI Bill Nails the Coffin Shut' on Abramoff Era
The House Natural Resources Committee, led by Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), today approved comprehensive legislation to extend U.S. immigration laws to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and provide the territory with a non-voting Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.
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Under the former Republican-controlled Congress, efforts to reform the CNMI's local immigration system halted when disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff used his influence to prevent the legislation from advancing in the House.
The Northern Mariana Islands Immigration, Security and Labor Act (ISLA) (H.R. 3079), introduced by Subcommittee on Insular Affairs Chairwoman Donna M. Christensen (D-VI) and co-sponsored by Rahall, would extend enforcement of the Immigration and Nationality Act to the CNMI and establish a federally administered guest worker program on the island. While the non-resident guest worker population was significantly greater than the resident population in the 2000 U.S. Census - today, with no reliable data available on the island's total population, it is believed that non-residents still outnumber residents.
Christensen said, "For one reason or another, shortly after the transition from trust territory to U.S. territory, Congress never exercised its authority to extend Federal immigration law to the Northern Marianas. The island has had two decades of local control over immigration policy. For the future prosperity of the CNMI and for the security of our nation, I believe the path should now lead in a different direction."
The legislation would also provide for a non-voting Delegate to represent the CNMI in the U.S. House of Representatives, starting with the Federal general election of 2008. Consistent with all non-voting Delegates currently serving in Congress, the CNMI Delegate would possess the same parliamentary rights as any Member of the House, including the right to sponsor or cosponsor bills, to offer amendments to pending measures, and to offer most other parliamentary measures.
The Administration has testified in support of the legislation before both the House and Senate authorizing committees. The Subcommittee on Insular Affairs held a field hearing in the CNMI in August 2007, and heard testimony from the leaders and residents of the island on the proposed legislation.