Congressman Panuelo Challenges U.S. Friendship

I received the following commentary from FSM Congressman David  Panuelo in which he speaks loudly what is in the hearts of so many law  abiding, tax-paying Micronesians living legally in the United  States. His op ed piece is in response to the recent initiatives by nine  U.S. Congressmen led by U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii to restrict FSM citizens’ access to the United States.

For those of us who contribute to the U.S. economy legally and the  many Micronesians serving and those dying in the U.S. Armed Forces, this focus  on the minority who abuse social services is nothing short of racial  discrimination and short sightedness. How can they focus on welfare  costs without also releasing data on the majority of Micronesian  immigrants earning an honest pay and paying the same taxes that pay for  those social services? And how can the U.S. forget so quickly how much  the Micronesian islands were so vital to the U.S. security during the  Cold War? How can the U.S. forget so quickly the blood of Micronesian  citizens who died in the U.S. led wars in Irag and Afghanistan? Thank  you Senator Panuelo for speaking up for us and for sponsoring Congressional Resolution 2017-46 directing President Mori to continue to work with the U.S to renew our Compact of Free Association treaty.

Where Did Our Real Friends Go?

By David W. Panuelo,
Congressman, 17th FSM Congress

As a citizen of the Federated States of Micronesia, I have been very  saddened to read recent reports of negative attitudes and discrimination  directed at our fellow Micronesians by some in the United States.  We  hear stories about Micronesian schoolchildren being singled out by  bullies, Micronesian families being discriminated against by landlords,  and Micronesians crowding homeless shelters.  Perhaps more disturbingly,  this stereotype of Micronesians as victims, scapegoats and scroungers  has been fueled by politicians characterizing Micronesian migrants as a  drain on government resources, in what has been described as a “Compact  Impact problem”.

Having recently received an email from a cousin of mine, Hainrick  Panuelo, who is in the U.S. Armed Forces in Afghanistan asking what we  are doing about the criticisms that are being directed against  Micronesians in Hawaii, Guam and elsewhere in the United States, this  issue is very personal to me.  Micronesians are on the front lines of  war zones, fighting alongside American citizens and defending the same  freedoms and rights that Americans value so much.  There is a disconnect  between the United States Government’s honoring of our fallen  servicemen at the Pohnpei International Airport and the talk of “Compact  Impact problems” from American citizens and officials alike.  I also  have personal experience of the compromises we have made in voting to  support the national interests of the U.S. at the United Nations at the  expense of our relations with other developing nations.  So, here I say  today, where did our real friends go?

Why such a short memory? Micronesia and the United States have a  unique and special relationship, following the U.S. trusteeship of the  region. Our Compact of Free Association with the United States permits  our citizens to enter, work, and reside in the United States, and grants  similar rights to United States citizens wishing to live and work in  our islands.  While the Compact Impact cost is a mere speck in the  totality of the U.S. economy, the immigration provisions of the Compact  are a lifeline for small island economies like that of the FSM.   Although some may choose to focus on the benefits Micronesians receive  from the United States, the totality of our relationship is more  complex.  The Compact gives the United States government veto powers  over the nearly one million square miles of Micronesia’s waters and air  space. The U.S. can no more unilaterally create a bottleneck for FSM  citizens’ rights to freely travel and work in the United States, than  the government of the Federated States of Micronesia can revisit the  defense provisions of the Compact.  Aren’t the veto powers over the  waters and air space of the FSM that the two countries agreed in the  Compact a security and strategic lifeline for the U.S.? As a student at  the time the Compact was signed and as a Congressman now, I have always  believed that that is a fair exchange.  And so Micronesia shouldn’t be  looked at as a charity case.

I am not denying that the reliance of some Micronesians on social  service programs in the U.S. is a valid concern.. The reality is that  some of our citizens are not prepared to enter the competitive U.S. job  market. Every new migrant group faces this kind of hurdle.  Our Compact  negotiators on both sides early on foresaw this issue and included  compensation provisions in the Compact for the U.S. Federal government  to reimburse US territories or States affected by the kind of Compact  Impact we are talking about today.  So, why such a short memory?  But we  are mostly hearing negative reports about the impact of the Compact.   By contrast, every time I travel to the U.S. it makes me proud to see  just how many Micronesians are working hard at U.S. airports, in the  U.S. tourism and service industry, in the manufacturing industry, in the  fields of Maui and on farms elsewhere in the US, in the fast-food  industry, and in nursing homes caring for senior citizens.  In fact, a  great number of our citizens are productive members of the U.S.  workforce contributing to the U.S. economy.

Just among my own circle of friends and acquaintances, I know many  FSM citizens who are succeeding in the United States.  Len Isotoff from  Chuuk is currently the General Manager of Matson Navigation Co. for Guam  and Micronesia,  and the Chairman of the USO in Guam, a non-profit  organization that provides morale and recreational services to members  of the U.S.military.  A cousin of mine, Walden Weilbacher from the  island of Pohnpei, is the head of the Secretariat of the Association of  Pacific Island Legislatures based in Guam and an active member of the  FSM-Guam Community. Aren Palik, from the State of Kosrae, is the  President and CEO of the Pacific Islands Development Bank based in Guam,  which was established in 1989 to help accelerate the economic and  social development of member countries. Vidalino Raatior, from the State  of Chuuk, is currently Assistant Director at the International Programs  Office at Santa Clara University in Northern California and has sent  students to more than 105 study abroad program locations in more than 50  countries.  Mr. Raatior also has a successful home-based web design  business.. Rocketchun Holden, an FSM citizen from the island of Pohnpei,  employs around forty people in the courier business he started fourteen  years ago in Idaho, and another twenty in his expanding chain of sushi  restaurants.  Mr. Bruce Musrasrik, an FSM citizen from the State of  Pohnpei who, in June 2007, was promoted to Hotel Manager for the Ohana  Islander Waikiki which is part of the chain of Ohana Hotels and Resorts.

I also have many well-educated FSM citizen college classmates and  friends, too numerous to mention here, living across the United States  in gainful employment and contributing to the U.S. economy in their  respective professions and skills. Most of these friends have lived in  the U.S. for a long time with their families and children. I am  encouraged and feel hope for our future as a nation when I see and talk  to their well-educated children.

Together with our real friends in the U.S., we need to do more to  promote the positive impact that our relationship has on both our  nations.  I hope that together we can begin to create a climate where  American officials and citizens can focus on the benefits, and not just  the costs, of the Compact.  One of our founding fathers, the late John  Mangefel, said it well during the negotiations when he said, “you cannot  put a ship on a canoe, but you can put a canoe on a ship.’’  In other  words, when there are challenges to be faced in our relationship, the  ship of the United States has more capacity to address them than the FSM  canoe.

David W. Panuelo
Congressman – 17th FSM Congress