U.S. Senator: Guam, Hawai‘i Need New Approach On Regional Migrants

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Hirono urges cooperation, leveraging military buildup for discussions

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Aug. 27, 2015) – Pleas from Guam and Hawaii for additional federal assistance for regional migrants haven't been acted upon, so both jurisdictions need a different approach, U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono said Thursday.

Hirono, D-Hawaii, told Guam audience Thursday she has approached Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama to help Guam and Hawaii keep up with costs associated with hosting regional migrants.

"Clearly we need to develop a more effective strategy," she said during a Guam Women's Chamber of Commerce membership meeting at Pacific Star Resort and Spa.

Health-care costs, joblessness and homelessness are some of the struggles regional migrants go through as they move to Hawaii or Guam.

Former Guam senator and University of Guam professor Judith Guthertz asked Hirono at Thursday's Guam Women's Chamber of Commerce meeting "to please focus" on the impact of regional migration. Regional migrant families have ended up in poverty in Guam, Guthertz said.

Hirono acknowledged the federal government hasn't helped Guam and Hawaii shoulder the true costs of regional migration, just like other federal mandates to local and state governments that remain unfunded or inadequately funded.

"I agree with you — our government has not met its responsibilities," said the Hawaii senator, who is the first Asian-American woman in the Senate. Hirono is a member of the Committee on Intelligence, the Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

Using the military "rebalance" as a takeoff point for discussions with the federal government about the cost to host governments of regional migration could be one of the approaches, Hirono said. The rebalance is federal lingo for shifting more U.S. troops and defense capabilities on Guam and other parts of the Asia Pacific region.

Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands can freely enter the United States under their island nations' Compact of Free Association agreements, and Guam and Hawaii are their top destinations of choice. In exchange for their citizens' entry to the United States, the three island nations allow the U.S. government access to their air space, land and waters.

For example, a missile defense site on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands currently is the only facility in the world with sufficient room for full-scale testing of long-range missiles, spanning millions of square miles of sea, the Heritage Foundation stated.

As tens of thousands of FSM, Palau and Marshall Islands migrants have relocated to Guam and Hawaii, medical care, housing and other economic and social costs have been borne by the host governments, though some argue regional immigrants also contribute to the local economy, in part by holding jobs others don't want.

Many regional migrants have been unprepared for the costs of housing and raising families on their own that they have ended up homeless, in substandard housing and relying on welfare.

In the aftermath of Typhoon Dolphin, dozens of families, including regional immigrant families, have been left living in substandard homes with damaged roofs.

Guthertz asked Hirono if it would be worth combining the efforts of Guam, Hawaii and other hosts of regional migrants and then suing the federal government "for being a deadbeat dad."

Hirono said it wouldn't be the first time the federal government hadn't helped local government with unfunded federal mandates.

Delegate Madeleine Bordallo hosted Hirono's Guam visit.

Hirono also gave a talk to the Women's Chamber membership about empowering women, and not giving up when facing obstacles.

The senator talked about her journey to America via Hawaii, and growing up in a household that struggled to make ends meet.

Hirono said her mom held two jobs, but money was often scarce. She said her mom removed her and her siblings from Japan because her mother was married to an abusive husband.

When facing challenges, Hirono said, she keeps "plugging away" because the alternative would be to throw in the towel.

She also believes in a "karmic force," and that "things have a way of coming around," though sometimes they might take time.

She was the Hawaii Democratic Party's first female nominee for governor, but lost in 2002 to Republican Gov. Linda Lingle. Ten years later, she beat Lingle in the race for a Hawaii Senate seat, securing her place in national political history.

For all of her accomplishments, Hirono said the credit goes to her mom.

"I owe my life ... and the privileges of this country," to my mother, Hirono said.

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