In the news this week was a report that the CNMI Governor, on behalf of the CNMI, sued the United States of America to stop federalization of immigration here. The lawsuit was filed on Friday, September 12, 2008 and assigned to Judge Paul L. Friedman.
The lawsuit alleges that the new federalization law, P.L. 110-229, goes beyond implementing a federal system of immigration and instead imposes a federal labor scheme on the CNMI, in violation of several laws.
The first count alleges that P.L. 110-229 violates the right of the CNMI to local self-government of internal affairs, as guaranteed by the Covenant, section 102. The U.S. may not over-ride the CNMI's local self-government of internal affairs unless the CNMI consents. (Covenant, section 105). The complaint alleges that implementation of the new system interferes with the CNMI's regulation of internal labor and economic affairs, and will cause economic harm that violates the U.S.'s guarantee to assist the CNMI in becoming part of the American economic community and able to meet its financial responsibilities of self-government.
The second count alleges that P.L. 110-229 was enacted in violation of the U.S. Constitution because the CNMI had no vote in Congress. The complaint alleges that the CNMI had no ability to participate in the political process, and that this defective political process violates the constitutional limits placed on Congress to enact laws.
The complaint asks the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to enter a permanent injunction prohibiting implementation and enforcement of P.L. 110-229.
The Defendants include the U.S., Michael Chertoff (Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Elaine Chao (Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor), and the U.S. Department of Labor. Because the defendant are all U.S. government offices or agents, they have 60 days after the U.S. Attorney is served with the summons and complaint to file their answer.
It's always risky to predict what will happen in litigation. CNMI Senator Maria Pangelinan was reported as saying that a stipulated settlement / consent decree declaring parts of the law inapplicable in the CNMI could be entered into. However, the same article reports that a spokesman for the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resource believes the law will be upheld.
On the merits of the claim of the first count: it's difficult to see how "local self-government of internal affairs" can be stretched to encompass employment of foreign nationals. The extension of U.S. immigration here was expressly envisioned by the Covenant--and is expressly allowed. U.S. immigration, where ever it applies, effects the availability of foreign workers for certain job categories. It seems that the U.S., by extending U.S. immigration here, is specifically trying to bring the CNMI closer into the U.S. American economic community.
On the merits of the claim of the second count: the Covenant implicitly acknowledged that U.S. citizens living in the CNMI would not have a vote in U.S. Congressional elections. The Covenant designed our participation in the political processes of the U.S.: a resident representative; and 902 talks between governments. The claim that the political procedure used by the U.S. Congress to enact P.L. 110-229 violates the U.S. Constitution is really a claim that our Covenant violates the U.S. Constitution. This seems a very risky tact to take, but also one not likely to succeed.
Right now, P.L. 110-229 is scheduled to go into effect in the CNMI on June 1, 2009. The most likely effect of the lawsuit, unfortunately, will be a delay in the CNMI's cooperation with the U.S. in formulating regulations that must be in place in order for the law to be implemented on time. Undoubtedly, Governor Fitial will use this excuse to seek a delay in the start of federalization. The alternative, which even the U.S. doesn't want, would be the implementation of federalization without CNMI government input.
Although the complaint alleges that the federalization of immigration will cause uncertainty for our foreign investors and our populace in the CNMI, this lawsuit will only add to that uncertainty.