WASHINGTON (CN) – The Northern Mariana Islands says the Department of Homeland Security is violating its right to self-governance by imposing U.S. immigration laws upon it – a violation of a legal covenant that would depopulate the islands. Residents of the Marianas are U.S. citizens. The U.S. promised them the right to self-governance after World War II.
The Marianas also sued the U.S. Department of Labor, saying Uncle Sam violated its agreement by trying to force the commonwealth to enforce the immigration and labor laws President Bush signed into law on May 8, in Title VII of P.L. 110-229. After two years, the law would force the Marianas to deport “illegal entrants” and “immigration violat(ors),” and would reduce its number of immigrant workers to as low as “zero.”
The Commonwealth says this is unconstitutional and violates the two nations’ covenant. It points out that The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands “has a unique affiliation with the United States, unlike that of a State or any other Territory. The CNMI is located closer to Japan and the Philippines than it is even to Hawaii, much less the mainland of the Untied States. It is as far from the West Coast of the United States as Washington, D.C., is from Cairo, Egypt.”
The special covenant between the Marianas and the U.S.A. was enacted as P.L. 94-241 in 1976. “(T)he Covenant guarantees a unique right of local self-governance and autonomy to the CNMI, and the Covenant expressly provides that this right of local self-governance cannot be taken away by the United States. … In addition, the Covenant authorizes the CNMI to enforce its own immigration laws until such time as Congress decided to apply the federal immigration laws to the CNMI. …
“Pursuant to its local laws, the CNMI has encouraged and authorized a significant number of foreign workers, largely from neighboring Asian countries, to work with the Commonwealth to help promote its economic growth and development. The large and stable workforce formed by these foreign workers is critical to the economy developed by the CNMI. Because the islands are so remote, it has proved difficult to attract U.S. citizen workers to the islands, particularly for unskilled or short-term employment. As a result, the U.S. citizen population of the CNMI is small, consisting of only about 30,000 people, including children. Under the immigration and labor regime set up by the CNMI, foreign workers today make up a full two-thirds of the CNMI’s working population. To address issues that had existed in the past, local CNMI labor laws currently provide extensive protections for these foreign workers while they are employed in the Commonwealth.”
The latest U.S. immigration law would change that, and would depopulate the islands, the Commonwealth says. It seeks a federal injunction.
The Commonwealth is represented by David De Bruin with Jenner & Block.