While much of the Pacific region is moving towards Asia (especially China) these days, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is marching in the other direction: further into the embrace of the United States.
The CNMI, an island chain in the western Pacific, has been affiliated with the USA since they were seized from Japan during World War two. The islands negotiated a covenant relationship with the United States in the 1970s which gave them the right, among other things, to set their own labor and immigration laws while enjoying subsidies from Washington and access to the United States market as domestic producer. Alas, producers there took advantage of those provisions to set up garment factories using cheap labor from China and The Philippines that nevertheless were not subject to import restrictions.
The lowering of tarrif barriers by the USA eliminated the need for manufacturers to maintain facilities in the CNMI when they could be produced more cheaply on the Asian mainland and most garment factories have closed. Additionally, Washington has moved to bring the CNMI under US immigration regulations, both to address the foreign labor issue and as a security precaution following the 9-11 attacks.
That shift in immigration law status has created a class of foreign nationals who came to the CNMI under local immigration law but are not authorized to enter areas subject to American immigration law, such as the US mainland and the territory of Guam. The status of those migrants is currently being worked out.
The process of norming the the CNMI and USA immigration regulations took a step forward with a recent court ruling:
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled yesterday that the CNMI is part of the United States for purposes of U.S. immigration law, reversing the criminal conviction of three Chinese nationals who tried to enter Guam from the CNMI by boat.
The Ninth Circuit disagreed with the U.S. District Court’s opinion that the CNMI is not yet fully a part of the U.S. for immigration purposes because of the federalization transition period exceptions.
The Ninth Circuit in the same opinion reversed the conviction of Shi Guang Li, Yong Jun Li, and Wei Kun Zhong, who were among several Chinese nationals who attempted to travel by boat from Saipan to Guam on Jan. 5, 2010.
The defendants had been charged with violating 8 USC Section 1325 (a)(1)*, a law that makes it a criminal offense for an alien to enter or attempt to enter the United States at a place other than designated by immigration officers.
The court noted that the Chinese can still be deported for moving to an area not authorized by their immigration status, but could not subject to criminal charges for the action.
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Is case you were wondering, yes, illegally entering the United States is a crime.