Ensuring our indigent, elderly and youth get access to the services they need is vital to strengthening our community. Our migrant population from the freely associated states represents an important segment of our community, who often find themselves in need of support services in Guam.
Unfortunately, the United States fails to provide adequate funding for these services to help our migrant community, placing the burden on the Guam taxpayer. In my last term,
I reached out to our governor and the prior administration on the matters of the expiring financial provisions of the Compacts of Free Association between the United States and the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia.
The funding provisions of the compacts with Marshall Islands and FSM are set to expire in 2023 and 2024 for Palau. The renegotiation of these compacts must center on the true value and needs of our migrant community as a whole.
As of now, there’s been no clear public signal from the Biden administration to extend the treaty’s funding provisions beyond 2023 and 2024. Several members of Congress have urged the Biden administration to take renegotiations seriously as it greatly affects the Pacific, people of Guam and other U.S. territories. Although discussions have been held throughout the last year, no agreement has been finalized.
Unfortunately, Guam isn’t included in these discussions, despite the fact that we are ultimately impacted by the policies set forth in any agreement between the U.S. and these island nations. Without a seat at the table, we can’t fully express our need for appropriate funding for educational and social services that is needed for our COFA migrants.
Our COFA migrants, particularly our COFA youth, are some of the most vulnerable in our community. It’s difficult enough to come to a new island, assimilate to a new culture, struggle to learn English, and all the while battle the pressures and demands of school.
The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance survey taken in 2017 stated that one in three COFA youths have had multiple attempts of suicide within a 12-month span. Many have even cited wanting to avoid attending school out of fear of being bullied or getting into fights. This is not the environment I want any of our youth to grow up in.
How can we assist our most vulnerable when we aren’t given adequate funds for the services that they need? We need to raise awareness of the ongoing issues that COFA migrants face on Guam to ensure that their residency in Guam is both productive and fulfilling for them and for our community.
I’ve written a letter to Secretary Deb Haaland of the Department of the Interior, raising these concerns; and have respectfully requested an update regarding the Biden administration's position with resuming renegotiations with the RMI and the FSM. Guam remains keenly interested and supportive of the compact relationship and wishes to address these issues of great concern.
Tina Rose Muña Barnes is the vice speaker of the 36th Guam Legislature.