Unhealthy, Uneducated Migrants Push Guam To ‘Breaking Point’

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Governor Calvo expects continued increases in the future

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Feb. 26, 2015) – Guam's challenge as host to more than 18,000 regional immigrants is great because many of them lack job skills and are unhealthy, the governor said at a meeting with federal officials yesterday.

"The compact impacts wouldn't be so heavy if many of the immigrants coming in -- had an education, had job training and are healthy. Unfortunately, and I feel for these people, ... they're unhealthy," Gov. Eddie Calvo said during a conference in Washington, D.C. yesterday.

A local government midwife, James Finch, who has served regional immigrant women for more than a decade on Guam, did say recently that many of the migrants do hold jobs others on Guam don't want, but they don't have health insurance at work. Some of the migrant women insist on going back to work within a week or two of childbirth because they want to support their family, Finch has said.

The Department of the Interior's Office of Insular Affairs hosted an annual meeting between federal government officials and leaders of the U.S. territories and Hawaii.

The impact of outmigration from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau was the more controversial topic at the meeting. Guam is the single largest host to regional immigrants from the island nations, followed by Hawaii.

'At a breaking point'

Calvo said the number of regional immigrants who live on Guam has topped 18,000 and increased by 340 percent over the past two decades.

He said regional immigrant patients have left financially strapped Guam Memorial Hospital with $30 million worth of unpaid bills. Guam's public schools spend $50 million a year for the education of regional immigrants' children, the governor said.

"I might as well say it -- GovGuam agencies right now are at a breaking point," Calvo said.

Guam's share of a $30 million annual funding for hosts of Compact migration has ranged between $14 million and $16 million. Last fiscal year alone, it cost GovGuam $144 million to provide services to regional immigrants, Calvo said.

Interior Department Assistant Secretary Esther Kia'aina, who was born and raised on Guam, said the $30 million is the maximum allowed by law. It would take congressional approval to raise it, she said.

The funding cap and her office's $1.3 million discretionary funding for compact migration have "stymied" her office from adequately reimbursing host jurisdictions, Kia'aina said.

Federal and local officials at the meeting agreed to collaborate toward "innovative solutions."

The governor shared the story of a homeless immigrant man, who had been ill, and was recently found dead in a car sales lot across the street from the governor's Complex at Adelup.

Calvo mentioned it to highlight the human toll of regional migration.

Guam's number of regional immigrants from the Federated States of Micronesia could increase tenfold in the coming years, the governor said, as the island nations' economic future is "very, very bleak."

The FSM, Palau and the Marshall Islands have received hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. financial aid under their compact of free association agreements with the United States, which have spanned close to two decades.

But the financial aid from the U.S. government could end less than a decade from now.

"It is our belief that with the expiring economic provisions of the Compact agreements and the impacts of climate change, we foresee, over the next decade, increased outmigration," Kia'aina said.

Climate vs. compacts

The lead topic at the conference was climate change. Compact impact was last, while workforce development and tourism were discussed in between the nearly three-hour conference.

Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo said Interior's budget "de-emphasizes" compact impact.

"I am disturbed when an issue like climate change takes first and sweeping priority over a longstanding and equally urgent issue such as compact impact," Bordallo said. "I understand the importance of addressing climate change as well as other OIA priorities, but these cannot be at the expense of compact impact."

Kia'aina said attention on climate change is a priority of President Obama and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

"And as such, we did get our marching orders to ensure that the territories have the capacity to address climate resiliency and preparedness, but we don't see that as an offset to compact impact," Kia'aina said.

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