Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he has written to Chairman Nick Rahall of the House Committee on Natural Resources expressing his serious concerns about H.R. 3079 and its companion bill S. 1634 which would apply certain provisions of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). Faleomavaega sent duplicate letters to Chairwoman Donna Christensen of the Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Senators Inouye, Akaka, and Bingaman, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, Deputy Assistant Secretary David Cohen, Governor Togiola, the Lieutenant Governor, the President of the Senate and Senators, and the Speaker of the House and Representatives. The full text of Faleomavaega’s letter dated September 20, 2007 is included below.
Dear Mr. Chairman:
I am writing to express my concerns about H.R. 3079 and its companion bill S. 1634 which would apply certain provisions of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). It is my understanding that Senator Daniel Akaka has requested a GAO review of the immigration problems that have confronted CNMI for the past several years, and the review and the report from the GAO have not yet been completed.
Also, as you know, minimum wage law was recently imposed on CNMI and American Samoa with very little regard for the input of our territorial leaders and key Members of the House and Senate who supported our efforts for a more sound approach that excluded escalator clauses which may be very harmful to the economies of both territories.
While we were able to include a provision which requires the US Department of Labor to undertake a study regarding the proposed impact of this federal legislation on the economies of both CNMI and American Samoa, we will not have results from this study until sometime in January 2008. This is why I believe it is in the best interest of CNMI and American Samoa that we hold off on pushing for immigration reform until we have had sufficient time to resolve the serious problems dealing with the potential impact of federal minimum wage laws.
As you may know, the intent of minimum wage legislation which was put forward in the House was not supposed to include American Samoa. However, the Republicans made such an issue of this point and American Samoa was forced into the debate and included in the measures despite the best efforts of Senators Inouye, Akaka, and Bingaman as well as certain Members of the House who were also sympathetic to both CNMI and American Samoa.
Although it may not be anyone’s intent to include American Samoa in the immigration debate surrounding CNMI, the fact is no one can promise that American Samoa will not be pulled into this debate and included in any measures that may go forward. For this reason, I cannot support H.R. 3079 or S. 1634 at this time.
Again, I believe it is best for us to wait until the US Department of Labor has assessed the impact of increased minimum wages on CNMI and American Samoa and issued its report to Congress which is due in the next eight months. After this, I would support revisiting immigration reform in CNMI, as I will also request the GAO to conduct a similar review of immigration issues dealing with American Samoa.
In conclusion, I would like to note that I am aware that some leaders in CNMI support H.R. 3079 and S. 1634. However, there are also leaders in CNMI who are opposed to both bills. In part, I believe the division among the leaders is due to the fact that language to provide CNMI a delegate in Congress has been included in the immigration reform bill.
For your information, I believe these issues should be separated into different bills. I believe the people of CNMI deserve a Delegate to Congress no matter what the outcome of immigration reform may be and I am hopeful that the House and Senate Subcommittees on Insular Affairs will introduce separate legislation to this effect without immigration reform attached. I stand prepared to support such a measure and I am sure many of our colleagues will support the same.