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Northern Mariana Islands: Governor Brings Suit in U.S. Court over Immigration Issue

(Dec. 17, 2008) Sections 105 and 503 of the Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands [CNMI] in Political Union with the United States reserve the right to establish immigration laws for CNMI to the U.S. Congress. (CNMI Law Revision Committee website, Dec. 12, 2008, available at However, since its creation in 1975, CNMI has been allowed to operate its own immigration system. In doing so, it has brought thousands of workers to the islands from Asian countries to work in textile and other industries that have lower labor standards and costs than are found in the United States. Concern over the large influx of foreign nationals into CNMI led the U.S. Congress to include provisions in the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 (CNRA, P.L. 110-229) to gradually extend U.S. immigration laws to CNMI, beginning with a transition period that commences on June 1, 2009. (Department of Homeland Security [DHS], Transition to U.S. Immigration Law in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, (last visited Dec. 11, 2008).)

In September 2008, the Governor of CNMI brought a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to prevent the application of U.S. immigration laws to CNMI, on the grounds that the Commonwealth was not sufficiently represented in Congress when the CNRA was enacted. (Steve Czajkowski, Mariana Islands Governor Sues to Stop Application of US Immigration System, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST, Sept.14, 2008, available at Since the CNRA was enacted, however, CNMI has acquired a delegate seat in the U.S. Congress.

One of the major concerns in the CNMI at present is how the Guam-CNMI visa waiver program will be implemented by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Of particular concern is whether the program will be extended to visitors from China and Russia. The Governor of CNMI has reportedly stated that without a visa-waiver program for visitors from China and Russia, the islands would experience “economic genocide.” (Steve Limtiaco, Chinese Tourism on Hold: Visa-Waiver Program on Homeland Security Agenda, PACIFIC DAILY NEWS, Nov. 26, 2008, at 1A, available at The Governor reportedly stated that the “current economic impact to the CNMI economy of these two markets is nearly $200 million annually.” (Id.). It appears that the visa-waiver program will be extended to visitors from Japan and South Korea and that visitors admitted under it will be allowed to stay for up to 45 days without obtaining special permission. (DHS, supra.)