THE SENATE

S.R. NO.

177

THIRTY-FIRST LEGISLATURE, 2021

 

STATE OF HAWAII

 

 

 

 

 

SENATE RESOLUTION

 

 

recognizing the contributions of the Compact of Free Association community in the state of hawaii.

 

 


WHEREAS, shortly after World War II, the United States assumed administration of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands under a United Nations strategic trusteeship, which provided for United States control over development of the islands' economies and international relations, as well as military access to territory within the islands; and

 

WHEREAS, the three nations with Compacts of Free Association (COFA) with the United States the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), and the Federated States of Micronesia have small populations, economies, and land sizes but stretch over two million square miles of ocean; and

 

WHEREAS, the swaths of ocean in which they are located are incredibly strategic, lying directly on the way from the United States to Asia and Australia, and whoever controls those waters controls American access to the entire Indo-Pacific region; and

 

WHEREAS, after World War II, these nations became trust territories of the United States. While the United States granted them independence in the 1980s and 1990s, these nations first signed COFA agreements with the United States, allowing it to establish bases, access territorial waters of these nations, and exclude other nations from them. For example, Kwajalein in the Republic of the Marshall Islands hosts the Reagan Test Site, a cornerstone of American missile defense capabilities; and

 

WHEREAS, if the United States abandoned COFA, China would be in a unique position to gain control over COFA, jeopardizing the United States' ability to guarantee the security of its Indo-Pacific allies and trade through the world's busiest shipping lanes since China's military buildup is a top threat to the region and world; and

 

WHEREAS, notwithstanding the COFA islands' status as independent nations, the economies of these islands are heavily dependent on United States government grants under the COFA treaty and the United States military presence; and

 

WHEREAS, treaties arising out of the special and unique relationship that has existed between the three COFA island nations and the United States allow island citizens to enter the United States without work permits or visas to study, live and work and to access benefits available to United States citizens, such as driver licenses and health care; and

 

WHEREAS, the federal government estimates that there are currently over fourteen thousand seven hundred COFA migrants living in Hawaii; and

 

WHEREAS, citizens from the Federated States of Micronesia volunteer to serve in the United States Armed Forces at per capita rates higher than most states; and

 

WHEREAS, a report in 2019 found up to one thousand five hundred Micronesian citizens currently serving in the United States Armed Forces; and

 

WHEREAS, 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 healthcare. COFA migrants also face discrimination in access to housing, education, and employment; and

 

WHEREAS, despite these hardships and challenges, COFA migrants participate in economic activities by providing labor, consuming goods and services, and paying fees and taxes to the government. According to estimates in a report conducted by the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism, the COFA population contributed $336,200,000 to the Hawaii gross domestic product in 2017, accounting for 0.4 percent of the state total GDP that year; and

 

WHEREAS, COFA migrants also contribute to the vibrancy of indigenous cultural practices in the State, helping to keep native cultural traditions alive in the modern day as best illustrated by the story of Mau Piailug and his contributions to traditional ocean navigation, which resulted in a cultural revolution for native Hawaiians to relearn a part of their culture that was being lost; and

 

WHEREAS, the COFA island families residing in this country should be fairly treated in recognition of their contributions and the special and unique relationship between the COFA islands and the United States; now, therefore,

 

BE IT RESOLVED by the Senate of the Thirty-first Legislature of the State of Hawaii, Regular Session of 2021, that the Legislature recognizes the contributions and accomplishments of our COFA community in the State of Hawaii and the broader United States; and

 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED 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; and

 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that certified copies of this Resolution be transmitted to the Governor, Chairperson to the Hawaii Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, and Executive Director of We Are Oceania.

 

 

 

 

OFFERED BY:

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Report Title:

Recognition; Compact of Free Association