Updated: Jul 21
By Aurora Kohn
Returning from her trip to Washington D.C., Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero on Wednesday said she had the opportunity to meet with federal officials to discuss some pressing issues affecting Guam such as labor, immigration and defense.
The governor said she met with Kelli Ann Burriesci, Department of Homeland Security's deputy undersecretary for the Office of Strategy Policy and Plans, and Capt. Paul Grett of the U.S. Coast Guard to discuss the issue of Chinese nationals entering Guam outside of the designated points of entry.
In an earlier interview with K57, Customs and Quarantine Agency Director Ike Peredo said seven boats ferrying Chinese nationals have docked on obscure locations on Guam in the past year. He theorized that they were CNMI workers who were trying to secure work in Guam.
Leon Guerrero said the Department of Homeland Security was aware of several cases of foreign nationals who were able to evade the U.S. Coast Guard and land on Guam’s shores.
“They assured us that people that are coming in as they know it are people who have overstayed their CW status and overstayed their conditional parole," the governor said. "They don’t feel that people are there for nefarious actions. But still, that is a concern for them and also definitely a concern for us."
The governor said she was told that U.S. immigration officials were only responsible for individuals entering Guam through the authorized points of entry and were not able to assist the local government in apprehending those who sneak into Guam outside of the authorized points of entry.
The governor said she does not have any power to order the detention and deportation of foreigners who entered Guam illegally.
The governor said she met with officers of both local agencies and federal agencies to discuss ways of deterring foreign nationals from entering Guam illegally.
The deputy director of Homeland Security also promised to bring up this matter with the U.S. Secretary of State.
The governor also met with Brian Garrett, staff director of the House Armed Services Committee, regarding Guam’s request to retain current provisions of the NDAA but to incorporate language in the 2023 NDAA extending the H2B program to 2029.
“My understanding is that the Senate version that’s coming down from the Senate Armed Services Committee does have the extension of the expiration,” said Leon Guerrero.
The governor met with federal labor officials regarding certain provisions that it was trying to incorporate into the Senate version of the H2 B program extension. Among these provisions that were of concern to Guam officials was the requirement that all H2B workers, as well as local employees, be provided free housing.
“That of course would impact the cost of construction here on our island and would raise, I think, labor costs,” said Leon Guerrero.
Another concern was a provision that housing for workers should be OSHA- compliant.
According to the governor, these would be difficult to comply with because workers were not necessarily housed together in one residential facility.
The governor said her government submitted a briefing paper about their issues of concern to the committee and that she will advocate to keep the provisions in the Senate version of the 2023 NDAA.
The governor also met with Navy Undersecretary Erik Raven and Assistant Secretary Meredith Berger who is in charge of installations in Guam.
The governor’s discussion with Berger centered on the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act or CERCLA.
“The government of Guam decided to go in the direction of negotiations. So that’s starting and we just wanted to make sure that the Navy is supportive of that, and they are,” the governor said.
The governor also met with Kurt Campbell, the National Security Council's coordinator for the Indo-Pacific Command.
“That meeting was very significant and productive. We talked about veteran benefits and services and he and I are on the same page on providing a regional veteran service center in Guam,” reported Leon Guerrero.
The governor also discussed a plan to organize a Guam Security Council upon Campbell’s advice. The council will address national security issues that affect Guam and members of the council will be key stakeholders from the military, government and the private sector.
The governor met with Patrick O’Brien of the Local Office Defense Community regarding updates on grants to Guam. The governor reported that Guam has a $1.9 million grant by the end of the fiscal year to support the ongoing improvements to support the resiliency of Guam’s ports.
The governor was in Washington D.C. from July 12 to 15 to attend the wreath-laying ceremony to honor fallen soldiers and to commemorate the 78th anniversary of Guam’s liberation.
The event was attended by various members of the U.S. Congress, representatives of the White House tasked with working with Pacific islanders and the territories on various issues, representatives from the Department of the Interior and war survivors.
The event was sponsored by the Guam Society of America together with the Guam Visitors Bureau. Later, the governor was also invited by Congressman Michael San Nicolas to attend another wreath-laying ceremony at the tomb of the unknown soldier in Arlington cemetery.