A bill to reform the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) immigration system will be introduced on the Senate Floor today, addressing more than a decade of mounting concerns about the exploitation of workers, sex trafficking and porous borders and years of political maneuvering by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
"After fighting for these reforms for many years, we are now closing the legal loopholes that had allowed some of the poorest men and women to be abused and exploited in sweatshops in this American territory," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who has championed the fight for CNMI reform since the 1990s.
The bill would extend U.S. immigration laws to the CNMI and establish a federally administered guest worker program in the American territory.
Miller said the bill would crack down on illegal activity that is rampant on the islands, largely due to corruption and the absence of border control.
CNMI Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, who had been supported by Abramoff and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, strongly opposes the bill.
"We believe that self-government is an asset," said Fitial spokesman Charles Reyes.
ABC News "20/20" first revealed disturbing sweatshop conditions for workers in the factories on the CNMI island of Saipan in the late 1990s.
Abramoff had for years lobbied on behalf of Saipan, and ABC News' Brian Ross reported some of the lavish trips that Abramoff provided for politicians, including DeLay, whom Abramoff took on a New Year's holiday to Saipan in 1997.
DeLay, his wife, daughter and several aides all stayed free at a beachfront resort. The trip was part of an effort by Abramoff to stop legislation aimed at cracking down of sweatshops in the American territory by applying U.S. labor law to workers there.
Since Abramoff was convicted of fraud and DeLay was forced to leave Congress on charges of improper campaign financing, legislation passed to raise the minimum wage of workers in the CNMI to match that of the United States' last year.