Interesting Migrant Screening Suggestion from an Unlikely Source

By David North, January 16, 2017

A useful screening method to sort out real tourists from potential illegal aliens has emerged from an unlikely source — a member of the territorial legislature in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. jurisdiction just north of Guam.

The Idea. Someone (in this case from China) who shows up with a tourist visa and six pieces of luggage is likely a would-be illegal worker, planning on a long stay in the United States. A similar alien, traveling with one or two pieces of luggage, is more likely to be a genuine tourist.

So: why not screen tourists on the basis of their luggage, as the island pol suggested?

The problem, of course, is that U.S. airports, including the one at Saipan in the CNMI, are not now organized to make use of this sensible suggestion. Currently there is a luggage-less and brief interview with an immigration inspector and then, a little later, the inspection of the luggage by a customs official. I suppose this suggestion could be implemented by instructing the baggage inspectors to send suspect aliens back to a secondary immigration inspection, even after (and despite) the fact that the person or persons involved had already been admitted by the immigration official.

The CNMI official's specific suggestion is that the luggage inspection takes place in China, before the alien gets on the plane. While this could be done easily in places like Canada and the Bahamas, where we have U.S. officials stationed to do such pre-screening, setting up such arrangements in China would be both expensive and diplomatically complicated.

Nevertheless, the basic notion is a sound one.

The Unlikely Source. As someone who has worked with the Department of the Interior on island migration issues, the origins of the notion are ironic to say the least. The proposer is Joseph Guerrero, chair of the tourism committee, of the lower house in the CNMI legislature. I have no first-hand knowledge of Mr. Guerrero.

But CNMI officials, generally, were the ones who hired the notorious (and subsequently jailed) Jack Abramoff to lobby Congress on behalf of the migrant-exploiting garment sweatshops. CNMI officials to this day accept the fact that fully one third of the members of the islands' labor force have temporary (nonimmigrant) status (and are thus subject to exploitation), and CNMI happily accepts birth tourism.

But if the advice is good (such as a reformed safecracker discussing anti-safecracking methods) let's take it and not worry too much about its origins.