Benigno Fitial, governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, filed a lawsuit Friday in the US District Court for the District of Columbia to prevent the US government from taking over the CNMI's immigration system. Fitial asserts that the provisions of the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 allowing federal immigration laws to be applied to the CNMI would force all foreign workers to leave and thereby devastate the local economy, which is largely dependent on workers from abroad. Fitial also argued that the takeover is against the provisions of the 1975 covenant between the US and the CNMI guaranteeing self governance, and that the takeover is unconstitutional since the CNMI did not have sufficient representation in Congress when the bill was approved this past May. The law may take effect as early as June 2009.
There has been much debate from inside and outside the CNMI on whether the legislation will cause the problems forecast by Fitial, and also whether the lawsuit is a necessary one. Juan Tudela Lizama, campaigning to become the CNMI's delegate to the US House of Representatives, commented that while he does not believe the legislation was enacted in accordance with the covenant, he does not support the current lawsuit. He added, "the problem surrounding the federalization law is the absence of existing dialogue between the CNMI people and the leaders in the United States government," and asserted that open communication would allow for greater understanding of the impact from the legislation. The Filipino Contract Workers Association Inc., the United Workers Movement NMI, and the United Filipino Organization have all said they object to the lawsuit and will support a protest. The groups called the lawsuit a waste of much-needed resources.