WASHINGTON, D.C. – Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today praised President Bush's signing of legislation that authorizes a delegate from the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands to the U.S. House of Representatives and extends U.S. immigration laws to the territory.
"The President's action marks a milestone in relations between the Federal Government and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas," Secretary Kempthorne said. "This historic legislation will provide the people of the Northern Marianas -- for the first time -- an elected voice in the House of Representatives to represent them and advocate their interests as part of the American family."
Before the President signed Senate Bill 2739, the Northern Marianas had been the only populated U.S. insular area that did not have a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. The measure had been previously passed by the U.S. Senate on April 10, 2008 and the U.S. House of Representatives on April 29, 2008.
"The Department of the Interior has been a strong advocate for establishing a Northern Marianas delegate seat in the House of Representatives," Kempthorne said. "And we look forward to working with the commonwealth's government and business leaders on a variety of programs to assist them in building a better future for their people."
"It's important to note," Kempthorne added, "that after the enactment of this significant Congressional legislation, there is still much work to be done by federal agencies and the Northern Marianas government to implement U.S. immigration laws in the commonwealth."
As Secretary of the Interior, Kempthorne is responsible for overall coordination of federal policy for the U.S. insular areas, advocating for the islands within the Federal Government, overseeing the distribution of appropriated funds for island territories, and administering U.S. financial assistance for the freely-associated states. A major objective of Interior's Office of Insular Affairs, which carries out the Secretary's responsibilities for the islands, has been promoting stronger self-governance in the U.S. territories.
Kempthorne previously met with Northern Marianas Gov. Benigno Fitial, Lt. Gov. Tim Villagomez, members of their administration, Resident Representative Pete A. Tenorio, and several legislators and members of the business community to discuss the legislation the President signed yesterday. During an official visit to the U.S. commonwealth last year, Kempthorne reaffirmed the importance of continuing to work and partner with Northern Marianas leaders to strengthen the islands' economy.
Located in the Western Pacific north of Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is a 300-mile long chain of 14 islands, with 183.5 square miles of land. There are about 69,000 residents, located on the three principal inhabited islands of Saipan, Rota and Tinian. The Northern Marianas, which had been part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific, joined the American family as a commonwealth in 1976.
More information on the Northern Marianas and the Office of Insular Affairs is online at http://www.doi.gov/oia/