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Millions spent on ‘unnatural demands’ for Guam’s services

Arvin Temkar HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Feb. 2, 2012) – In his State of the Island address Tuesday, Gov. Eddie Calvo called the Compacts of Free Association "the most liberal immigration policy in U.S. history," and criticized the federal government for providing inadequate funding to offset its impact.

Calvo said the federal government gave mere "peanuts" to compensate for the costs of immigration from the freely associated states and then invoking penalties when the local government can't keep up with federal requirements. Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Marshall Islands and Palau can freely enter Guam and other U.S. areas under their island nations' Compact of Free Association agreements with the federal government.

"The federal compacts led to an unnatural demand on our services," he said. "We didn't have the funding to keep up with the demand."

Calvo named several government services stretched thin due to an increasing population: "School crowding in the north. Prison funding and conditions. Wastewater treatment. Capacity at Ordot dump. (Medically Indigent Program) funding that was no longer enough."

It cost, for example, $6 million last year to feed immigrant prisoners, Calvo said. He said 26 percent of the prison population is from the freely associated states, though the regional migrants are 11 percent of the population.

Regional immigrants account for about 55 percent of the locally funded Medically Indigent Program, costing the local government millions, MIP data show.

Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz, in a letter to Tony Babauta, assistant secretary of the Office of Insular Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior, yesterday called for the federal government to reimburse Guam Memorial Hospital for services provided to the regional migrants.

"It is not my intention to sound heartless or cruel, and I would never suggest the hospital deny providing care to anyone," Cruz wrote. "However, we must acknowledge the reality that GMH does not have enough beds to accommodate everyone at a level of service we would like."

Blame Despite the challenges posed by the compact, the regional immigrants can't take the blame for everything Calvo mentioned.

"Ordot Dump was supposed to be closed 20 years ago regardless of in-migration," said Simon Sanchez, chairman of the Commission on Consolidated Utilities. "It was totally out of compliance with environmental regulations."

If the governor meant that immigrant growth might strain the new landfill, that isn't an issue, Sanchez said. The landfill was built to last for more than 30 years based on historic population growth figures.

Sanchez said that popular migration to the island is in part because Guam's economy is better off than surrounding economies. And with a developing tourism industry and a possible military buildup, it isn't just regional immigrants straining resources – it's everyone. Overall economic growth, rather than population growth from any one group, is why infrastructure – like the wastewater treatment Calvo mentioned – is being stretched, Sanchez said.

On a brighter note, Sanchez said a 2010 federal law involving the transfer of a Naval wastewater system to Guam lays the groundwork for pursuing compact reimbursements. The law says that instead of selling the water system to the local government, the federal government will offset the value of the water system by using non-reimbursed compact dollars. That amounts to a federal acknowledgment that there could be non-reimbursed compact funds, he said.

Guam should now try to figure out exactly what that non-reimbursed value is, Sanchez said. "I think Guam needs to start pursuing this with vigor."

FSM voice Robson Romolow, foreign service officer at the FSM consulate, said that while the governor's points on compact impact cannot be ignored, there are positive aspects of immigration that should be taken into account.

Regional immigrants are taxpayers, homeowners and leaders in government and private industry, he said.

According to Department of Labor statistics from March 2010, regional migrants are 10 percent of the island's private workforce.

And the migrants tend to be significant contributors to certain industries. Labor statistics show that regional migrants make up 38 percent of people working in landscaping services, 22 percent of people in heavy construction, and 26 percent of people in building maintenance.

It is the responsibility of the island to "share our warmth, no matter what the federal government does to Guam," Calvo said in his speech. He called Guam an island of immigrants, and defended the Guamanian dream.

"We Guamanians from all walks of life go about our business trying to make ends meet and build something great for our families," he said.

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