Abramoff Allies Lose One Immigration Battle, Win Another

By David North, November 24, 2009

It is useful to mention Jack Abramoff from time to time. He's the most lavishly paid, most outrageous, and most jailed of the Open Borders lobbyists.

This week his allies lost one substantive battle, but were victorious in a largely symbolic one.

Abramoff should be remembered for his successful effort to keep the Saipan sweatshops open, and for his advocacy of the job-killing H1-B visas for foreign computer programmers.

As I noted in an earlier blog Congress, once Rep. Tom Delay was out of the picture, decided to terminate the peculiar process of letting the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. possession in the western Pacific, run its own immigration policy. The CNMI had encouraged the admission of tens of thousands of temporary alien workers, and then treated most of them shamefully, notably in Saipan's garment sweatshops. The islands paid Abramoff millions to stay free of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA), which controls immigration elsewhere under the U.S. flag.

On Monday two decisions were handed down: one by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman in the D.C. District court, and the other by the voters in the Marianas.

Judge Friedman's ruling dealt with the interim regulations issued by the Department of Homeland Security as it implemented the extension of the INA to the CNMI; that implementation takes place at one minute after midnight Saturday morning.

The governor of the islands, Benigno Fitial, a staunch ally of the users (and abusers) of foreign workers, unsuccessfully fought the extension of the INA in Congress. Thwarted there, he decided to sue DHS in federal court, seeking to block its interim regulations.

I was one of a handful of spectators in the courtroom Monday when opposing sides gave their oral arguments. I was worried that in his presentation the young Justice Department lawyer ignored the background issues of the CNMI's long-standing abuse of foreign workers, and the peculiarity of letting a tiny and essentially Third World U.S. territory make its own immigration law. He stuck to a narrow defense of the DHS rule-making process and carried the day.

For more on Judge Friedman's ruling see here.

There may well be an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Meanwhile, on the same day, back in the islands, there was a runoff election for the governorship, which I discussed in an earlier blog. Governor Fitial, strongly backed by the Marianas employers, nosed out his long-time reformist rival, Heinz Hofschneider, for the office. Hofschneider, the Republican candidate, had been a few votes ahead in the initial election, in which there were four candidates. Fitial belongs to the Covenant Party, a CNMI-only organization dominated by the users of foreign labor. The Democratic Party, which barely exists in the islands, had no candidate for governor.

Happily the CNMI government no longer controls immigration in the islands, but Fitial's victory means that the governor's office will continue to drag its feet as DHS struggles with its new role in the islands.

Abramoff had given Fitial a big boost politically a few years ago when he sent two of his associates, armed with Tom Delay-engineered earmarks, to help break a tie over the speakership of the lower house of the legislature in Fitial's favor. Fitial was subsequently elected governor in 2005.