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Northern Mariana Islands Covenant Implementation Act

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Location: Washington, DC

NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS COVENANT IMPLEMENTATION ACT -- (House of Representatives - December 11, 2007)

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Mr. GEORGE MILLER of California. I thank the gentlewoman for yielding, and I want to congratulate her on this legislation.

This is an important piece of legislation, and I'm delighted that we were able to work it out in the committee on a bipartisan basis. And I want to thank all of the Members on both sides of the aisle.

Since the early 1990s, I've tried to bring legislation to the floor of this Congress to reform the abusive labor practices and the broken immigration policies of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, an American territory in the Pacific.

I sought these changes so that we could put a stop to the well-documented and widespread abuse of poor men and women in the garment and tourism industry in the CNMI and to better secure America's borders. But for more than a decade, a lobbyist by the name of Jack Abramoff joined then-Majority Leader Tom Delay and others here in Congress to block my reform efforts, even though they passed on a bipartisan basis in the Senate and in the Senate committee twice.

Ten years ago this month, in fact, Tom Delay visited the Mariana Islands and declared that our Federal reforms ``had no future'' as long as he was in control of the House of Representatives, but there is a new Congress in town. We have new Republican leadership and we have new Democratic leadership, and we're moving quickly under the leadership of the gentlewoman from the Virgin Islands to right the wrongs of the past.

Earlier this year, we raised the minimum wage across the country, and for the first time in almost a decade we gave the workers of the Northern Marianas a raise as well. Thanks to that minimum wage increase, workers in the Marianas make $3.55 an hour, up from barely $3 that workers were paid for these past years. And what's more, the minimum wage will continue to rise in the CNMI until their wage is equal to that of other American territories.

Today, my friend and committee colleague from the Virgin Islands has brought this legislation to the floor to fix the other long-standing problem in the CNMI. The broken local immigration program in the CNMI has allowed unscrupulous recruiters to exploit and abuse thousands of workers and their families, and it helped the CNMI's sweatshop-based economy to persist for decades. The legislation we are considering today brings the CNMI within the Federal immigration system so that we can put an end to that exploitation and abuse. The bill was drafted by the Bush administration and improved by the Natural Resources Committee.

I want to congratulate Chairman Rahall and Chairwoman Donna Christensen for bringing this legislation to the floor. As I said earlier, I also want to thank Congressman Conyers, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, for helping to improve this. And I thank the cooperation of the Republicans, Don Young, and the subcommittee of the Resources Committee.

Today, Jack Abramoff is in prison and Tom Delay has resigned in disgrace. And today we pass a bill that restores the human rights to those individuals working in the CNMI. And today we strengthen the borders of America.

With these two pieces of legislation soon to become law, the minimum wage, which is already the law, and this legislation, to repair the immigration, I think now we can comfortably consider and support the notion of a delegate from the CNMI to the Congress. And I want to thank the gentlewoman for her persistence, the gentlewoman from Guam, and the gentleman from American Samoa for that effort. As they know, this is legislation that I have been deeply
very, very long time that unfortunately brought about a lot of bad practices in the CNMI. But I am convinced with this legislation that we're doing the right thing, and we can open a new chapter, hopefully, of economic prosperity and of representation for the CNMI in the Congress of the United States.

And again, I thank the gentlewoman very much for your tireless effort on this legislation.

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