Section 902 and risking federal wisdom from Janet Jackson

By Mabel Doge Luhan

Oh yes, the 902 talks! Where we get to send a few well-connected people to vacation in DC and ask the feds for more stuff. And we offer those feds nothing in return.

Do you remember when Timmy Villagomez (who, when going off to Federal College, graciously gave me the remainder of his RYDLYME for my pesky carbuncles!) appealed his sentence? And the judge did indeed change Timmy-boy’s sentence — increasing it by 21 months! Well that was quite a plot twist!

We seem to forget that renegotiation is renegotiation, and we are not guaranteed an improved outcome. The feds have been playing softball with us so far. But imagine they stopped playing softball. Imagine they come to the 902 negotiating table all dressed in leather jackets, steam pouring out the vents of the factory. The scene is in black and white. Deb Haaland holds up her hand and calls out, “Five, four, three, two, one.” Deb takes a step forward, adjusts her black leather cap, and then asks our designated DC vacationers: “What have you done for me lately?”

How, indeed, could we answer? What could we threaten her with, if she said they’re going to decrease, not increase, the free money thrown to the CNMI? Quit charging us mainland US rates for mail? Make us pay for US military protection? Make us ineligible for social security, Medicaid, Medicare, and other social giveaways? Send us back to 1814?

What could we threaten her with — cultural heritage? Stories about our ancestors? A threat to be less cooperative about the Tinian divert field, so the feds would have to spend some lawyer time on using eminent domain to take the land?

As the pre-Commonwealth generation dies off, many of us don’t appreciate how good we have it. We see the current status of the CNMI as our Janet Jackson -given right, immutable. But nothing is immutable, especially when we ourselves have asked to come to the table to renegotiate the deal.

Ms. Haaland is unlikely to play vicious hardball of this kind. But if the Trumpists win in November 2024, all bets are off. They’d throw us under the bus in a second. If they want a military presence in Asia, they already have Guam. And for the Trumpists, giving the upper hand to China and Russia is a feature, not a bug. We need to remember that — especially in light of our beloved former governor having been the first to endorse Trump.

So maybe if we do have these 902 talks, we shouldn’t treat it as time on Santa’s lap, where we ask for more free stuff, especially in this politically fraught time in Washington. (Why call the proposal a PPP program?! Don’t they just mean no-strings-attached cash, probably for CNMI government employees?) Maybe we can ask for things that don’t actually cost the feds any money?

We simultaneously complain about the lack of a workforce and a tax base in the CNMI and the lack of people who want to come here — and then about the “overstayers” who aren’t allowed to legally work. These people have shown that they want to be here. In fact, they’re already here. Why not grant them a CNMI-only legal immigration status that would allow them to work, pay income taxes, and contribute to the economy? Make them pay back taxes or a fine for their overstay that funds future immigration enforcement — fine, whatever. But we have thousands of people in the CNMI who are eager to work, but can’t work for big, legitimate businesses.

Instead of figuring out how to put them to work, we go around complaining about them. Why not fix the problem? It’s a situation that could be changed without cost, with the stroke of a pen and a push of a button.

And why not offer the feds something, as Governor Palacios has done by formally ceasing to treat China and IPI as our overlord? What else can we offer?

It can’t just be take, take, take. That sort of arrangement always runs out after you’ve come to depend on it, and at the worst possible time.

What have we done for them lately?


Mabel Doge Luhan is a woman of loose morals. She resides in Kagman V, where she pursues her passions of crocheting, beatboxing, and falconry.


  • Sad to say but it’s true. This open hand mentality must be scrutinized before you open it requesting for more of the same. And I agree, request to make good use of those over stayers.

  • Imelda Tanapino

      02/02/2024 at 5:13 PM

    Don’t drink any more of that KewlAide! It has occupied your brain with acronym A5NH1, leaving U just cackling.

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