Friday, May 30, 2008



After months of study and consultation with the Commonwealth and interested federal agencies, the Government Accountability Office was prepared to release publicly its final report of the meaning of House Bill No. 3079 on schedule last Friday, March 28. No such report was received by the Commonwealth, as had been promised by GAO on many occasions after circulating its draft report on February 22, 2008.

The Commonwealth has now been informed that GAO did submit its final report to the Congressional requesters on March 28. The report is entitled “Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands: Pending Legislation Would Apply U.S. Immigration Law to the CNMI with a Transition Period (GAO-08-466).” According to GAO, the Congressional staffers “requested restrictive release,” which means that GAO cannot make the report public for 30 days, unless the Congressional staffers decide to release it at an earlier date.

Governor Fitial expressed his surprise and disappointment with this development:
“Preventing the public release of the GAO report for as long as 30 days means that the Members of the Congress will not be informed of the many serious legal shortcomings of the important bill they are being asked to approve. We pointed out many of these deficiencies in our comments to GAO.”

Governor Fitial has authorized release to the public of the comments submitted by his Special Legal Counsel on March 14, 2008 to GAO regarding its draft legal report. The Commonwealth was informed that comments had also been solicited by GAO from the Departments of Homeland Security, Interior, and Labor. The Commonwealth also recommended that comments be sought from the Department of Justice. As is GAO’s practice, all such comments would be included in the final version of the report.

One of the most controversial interpretations contained in the GAO draft report was its tentative view that the transition period defined under the bill could not be extended beyond December 31, 2014. According to the Commonwealth’s comments, this interpretation of the bill is inconsistent with both the language of the proposed legislation and its legislative history. The Commonwealth believes that the Secretary of Labor is clearly given the authority to extend the transition period for periods of up to five years after considering a long list of relevant factors.