Mariana Islands Should Be Subject to Regular U.S. Wage Laws
Helle Bering-Jensen's April 24 Op-Ed column, "Keeping Uncle Sam out of Saipan," presents a case for continued federal inaction in the face of serious problems in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).
The CNMI became part of the United States under a 1975 covenant. The Northern Marianas representatives did, as stated in the column, negotiate a "good deal." The people became U.S. citizens overnight. The U.S. flag replaced the trust-territory flag and thereby provided a stable legal and political environment for investment.
The United States agreed to a broad array of federal assistance programs plus special funding for government operations and infrastructure. The United States also agreed to levy no federal taxes. Federal assistance has totaled about $1 billion over the past 20 years, or $50,000 for each of the 20,000 U.S. citizens in the CNMI as of the 1990 census. These provisions provided a firm foundation for economic growth. To suggest that Uncle Sam is somehow a threat to the CNMI's development when the United States has, in fact, made that development possible is a gross distortion of history.
Under the covenant, the United States also extended to the CNMI the opportunity to ship products to the U.S. market duty- and quota-free in order to create jobs. The covenant also exempted the CNMI from certain U.S. laws, including minimum-wage and immigration laws. These temporary exemptions were privileges extended to ease the transition into the U.S. economy.
Economic growth in the CNMI has been extraordinary. However, the greatest growth has taken place in direct opposition to the intent of the covenant negotiators. The population has quadrupled because of the admission of temporary foreign workers who earn low wages and are vulnerable to abuse. …