Two federal agencies announced Wednesday that they will conduct a census of Micronesians living in Hawaii and three island territories.

The count will launch sometime after Sept. 30 and be completed by December 2018. The purpose is to give the U.S. government updated population counts when deciding how much federal money should be allocated for what’s known as “compact impact.”

Under the Compacts of Free Association — COFA — Micronesians from three Pacific nations are allowed to live, work and study for indefinite periods in the United States without need for a visa.

Interior Acting Assistant Secretary Nikolao Pula has signed a “statement of work with the U.S. Census Bureau to carry out the count of migrants from the “freely associated states” in Hawaii, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa.

Father Francis X. Hezel giving communion at a Chuukese service, Parish of Santa Barbara, Guam, in 2014. Under COFA, the U.S. territory has experienced a large influx of Micronesians. Mark Edward Harris/Civil Beat

“The law requires that we work with the Census Bureau to conduct this enumeration every five years as the basis for the distribution of compact impact funds,” Pula said in a press release. “I have reached out to governors of Guam, Hawaii, the CNMI and American Samoa asking for their cooperation to ensure the enumeration is successful. We have also reached out to members of Congress.”

As Civil Beat reported in its 2014 series The Micronesians, Hawaii and Guam have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years to help Micronesians in their islands with education, health and social services.

The federal government currently only provides a fraction of the compact-impact monies leaders of Hawaii and Guam say they need.

Earlier this month, the Interior Department said it would provide an additional $3 million in compact impact aid, on top of the $30 million allotted annually.

Growing Populations

Precise census numbers are unknown, but as the table below shows, COFA migration is clearly on the upswing, as Micronesians from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau seek educational, employment and health opportunities in the United States:

U.S. Census Bureau Enumerations of Compact Migrants in Affected Jurisdictions

  • Hawaii — 12,215 (2008), 14,700 (2013)
  • Guam — 18,305 (2008), 17,170 (2013)
  • CNMI — 2,100 (2008), 2,660 (2013)
  • American Samoa — 15 (2008), 25 (2013)

The Census Bureau will rely on American Community Survey data for 2015-17 for Hawaii. Field surveys will be conducted in Guam and the Northern Marianas, and Census and Interior officials will visit Guam and Saipan “in the near future to make necessary arrangements to launch this important effort.”

COFA migrants are classified as legal nonimmigrants. As the Interior Department noted in its press release, “They also serve in the U.S. military and currently serve in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces in large numbers that are disproportionate to the sizes of their populations.”

The Census Bureau, using 2010-2014 data, estimates that there are more 41,380 citizens from the Federated States, the Marshall Islands and Palau living in the 50 states.

Students listen to speakers during the 2015 Navigating Success: Micronesian College College Student Leaders summit held at the Honolulu Museum of Art School. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The states with the highest number of FAS citizens are Hawaii (17,205), Arkansas (3,625), Washington (3,430), Oregon (2,580) and Texas (2,090).

The Interior Department said those numbers “do not incorporate the smaller number of American citizens who are of Micronesian, Marshallese and Palauan ancestry.”

Civil Beat reported that the number of COFA citizens in the U.S. and Guam may be as high as 75,000.

Northwestern Arkansas alone was estimated to have at least twice the number of Micronesians, mostly Marshallese, as the Census reported. And those are very conservative estimates.

Compact impact is not provided in the contiguous states.

By law, the Interior Department said, the 2018 enumeration “should be the last as the financial provisions” under the compact, including compact impact funding, expire in 2023.

The United States is expected to still maintain full defense authority over the Marshalls, Palau and the Federated States. Visa-free out migration will also continue.

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