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 Immigration and asylum

Pacific Reflections By Gabriel McCoard

The CNMI’s economy will collapse because nobody will visit, while Guam is being overrun with illegal migrants using the CNMI as a launchpad.

Won’t someone please think of the military bases? This is a threat to national security, after all.

Pardon my skepticism.

The U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard can find shipwrecked victims (by ship I mean orange fiberglass boats with an outboard motor) on the outer islands of Chuuk, but are incapable of tracking anything approaching Guam’s shores.


And the U.S. military –the same military that detected the flash of the Buk missile that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17– is not able to protect its bases on Guam?

Again, forgive me for my skepticism.

Are we facing an immigration crisis? An asylum crisis? Most definitely.

So let me share a story about my early lesson in asylum law. He was Ogoni. And he was in my office wanting to apply for asylum. I remember hearing about the civil war in the Ogoni oil fields, one of the most polluted places on the planet, where the Niger River delta meets the Gulf of Guinea on the West Coast of Africa. When the Ogoni, natives of the region, pushed back against the environmental destruction and shortened life spans characteristic of the area, insisting on greater autonomy and a fair share of oil money, things got ugly.  

Ugly as in government raids. Nigeria arrested Ogoni leaders including Ken Saro-Wiwa, prominent among environmentalists around the world. With the agreement—some say encouragement— of Shell Oil Company, which got a lot of bad press at the time, the government murdered him. 

And tens of thousands ended up in refugee camps.

One of them was now sitting across my desk, wanting my help. And I could not help him. He had been in the country for 20 years and had a recent criminal conviction that allowed the government to deport him.

To get asylum, you need to be in danger, or more precisely, have a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group, or political opinion. The last one is especially important because it includes “coercive population control.” As in China’s one-child policy and forced abortions.

Modern asylum rose from the ashes of World War II and the Holocaust, when millions of people throughout Europe were killed, and those who survived lost their homes and communities.

The Cold War was just starting, the temporary alliance between the U.S. and Soviet Union collapsed without a common enemy, while the Chinese Communist Party was taking over China. Not to mention the hordes of armed, battle-tested soldiers who now needed to keep public order while their commanders were being executed for crimes against humanity. And the U.S. found itself with a string of islands stretching from the Aleutians to the Philippines. Basic history.

A few years later, the U.S. enacted the Refugee Relief Act of 1953, which I mention for two reasons. First, it provided for refugee status due to “natural calamity.” Advocates for climate refugees might want to take note.

It also provided 200,000 visas for those escaping communism. The U.S. considered being from a communist country a basis for refugee or asylum relief. According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, over 2,000 Chinese nationals have obtained visas, an increase over the annual average of 100.

Guam overrun with illegals? 118 individuals over two years? Everything is classified?  Joint trainings? The Marianas are to blame? What about the U.S. government? When in doubt blame the President.

Once again, forgive my skepticism.


U.S. immigration policy has been fairly consistent on Chinese dissidents. Communism bad. Forced abortions bad. Over 80 percent of asylum applications get denied. Yet, 55 percent of Chinese nationals applying on the basis of political opinion are approved. 

So, can we please be honest about the current immigration crisis, whether in Texas or Guam? Can someone in Congress please explain why it is that the Chinese Communist Party is bad, but anyone seeking to leave it is a threat?

Then there are the Russians, who a decade ago entered Guam visa-free courtesy of a rule change. After 2014, with Russia’s clampdown on political speech and homosexuality, —not to mention Crimea and that whole shooting down an airliner thing,— the number of would-be Russian asylees shot up. Their applications have lingered in the system without any answer, which is all too common for asylum.

Since the states were not part of the visa waiver, they cannot leave (except to go to another country), reminiscent of Chinese Uighur dissidents in Guantanamo Bay going to Palau. Legal and geographic limbo. 

Legitimate security concerns? Absolutely. But why it is that those with legitimate asylum claims want to bypass long-established laws that work in their favor, especially by sneaking over the border from Mexico?

Russians in Guam experiencing American indecision might provide an answer.

Or are we just angry at the Chinese now that their country doesn’t need our pity?

Gabriel McCoard is an attorney who previously worked in Palau and Chuuk State. Send feedback to


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