Many Micronesians have lived and worked in Hawaii for decades by virtue of a treaty between the Unites States and three island nations.

Yet, migrants from Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia continue to struggle in the state even as others contribute to society.

Two resolutions in the Hawaii Senate call for recognition of contributions from the Compact of Free Association community in the state.

The author of Senate Resolution 177 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 215 says anti-Micronesian discrimination and racism is a huge problem in Hawaii.

“This is a community that’s been marginalized and has disproportionately suffered from the pandemic,” said Sen. Stanley Chang, a Hawaii Kai Democrat. “Most people in Hawaii are totally unaware of Micronesian contributions to this nation and in particular to the national security of this nation.”

Those contributions include the nuclear testing conducted in the Marshalls during the Cold War and the fact that the COFA nations cover a large region in the Pacific Ocean. The Marshalls, Palau and FSM were major battle sites during World War II, and the COFA treaty is considered a strategic necessity for the U.S.

We Are Oceania Micronesian Festival crowd.
Students at the 2018 Micronesian Youth Summit in Honolulu, an event geared toward middle and high school students and organized by the nonprofit group We Are Oceania. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“Without the cooperation and friendship of the COFA nations, East Asia would be a much more dangerous and unstable region,” he said. “The U.S. would lose access to our partners and friends in Asia.”

The two resolutions, which are identical and have a hearing on Monday at the Capitol via videoconference, chronicle the history of the U.S. and the COFA nations since World War II to the present day.

There are nearly 15,000 COFA migrants living in Hawaii, the resolutions note, and a significant number of COFA citizens serve in the U.S. Armed Forces.

“And yet there is widespread negative public perception of COFA migrants in Hawaii and this group continues to be scapegoated as a drain on resources, particularly regarding health care,” the measures explain. “COFA migrants also face discrimination in access to housing, education, and employment” — all while participating in economic activities “by providing labor, consuming goods and services, and paying fees and taxes to the government.”

A report from the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism concluded that the COFA population contributed $336 million to the Hawaii gross domestic product in 2017, or 0.4% of the total state GDP that year.

The resolutions state that the Legislature recognizes the need to “bring justice to Hawaii’s relationship with our COFA community, including providing equal access to health care, ensuring meaningful inclusion and language access in schools and workplaces, and promoting the inclusion of COFA residents in government.”

Said Chang, “I’m trying to change the narrative from feeling pity for these people to one that recognizing that we are standing shoulder to shoulder in defending this nation’s security.”

In related news, House Concurrent Resolution 190, introduced by Rep. John Mizuno, urges the U.S. Congress and the Interior Department to provide federal aid and support to Hawaii for financial, medical and other federal assistance for COFA migrants.

HCR 190 was approved by the House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs committee Wednesday and now awaits a hearing in House Finance.

Resolutions do not have the force of law but do express the sentiment of a majority of legislators in a chamber. Concurrent resolutions express the position of both chambers, assuming that each passes both the House and Senate.

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