Congressional Address 2017 - "Moving Forward, Together"
Hafa Adai Acting Governor Tenorio, Speaker Cruz, Chief Justice Maraman, members of the consular corps, military leaders, distinguished guests, and my dear people of Guam:
I am honored to be back here again. Just a few weeks ago, I spoke from this same dais for the first time to deliver the eulogy for my late brother-in-law, former Senator Alfred Ysrael. The circumstances were a bit different. As you know, “Uncle Al” was a simple man so I was sure to keep my eulogy just as short and simple.
However tonight, as I deliver my first Congressional Address in this newly renovated and restored historic Guam Congress Building, the issues we face are difficult and complex. So tonight I promise my speech will NOT be short and simple.
But really, I am humbled to once again come before you this evening to deliver my annual report on federal issues important to our island. This year’s address is even more meaningful to me because for the first time, I am able to deliver it where I began my career in public service. And while there is much history to this edifice, beyond the brick and mortar, there lives a spirit of inafa’maolek and progress that was breathed into it by generations before us—that no matter how turbulent the current or wide the political divide—we must always move forward, together.
Tonight as I begin, I want to first address our manamko’ – our island’s greatest generation. As your representative to Congress, I am pleased to report directly to the people of Guam that war claims has finally passed the United States Congress and is now law.
Last December, in the final days of his administration, President Obama signed into law federal legislation that finally authorizes war claims for Guam’s greatest generation and recognized them for their unwavering loyalty and patriotism to the United States during World War II.
This law will allow war claims to be paid to the living survivors of the occupation and the heirs of those brave Chamorros who were killed during the war. Passage of this bill was a long and difficult journey—I took up this effort 14 years ago when I was first elected to Congress after more than 40 years of groundwork by each of my predecessors starting with Guam’s first Congressman Antonio Won Pat and built upon by Congressmen Ben Blaz and Robert Underwood—but through our perseverance and determination, our survivors and Guam’s greatest generation will finally receive the recognition they so justly deserve.
I recognize the bill we passed is not everything we wanted, and that compromises needed to be made. I first came to Guam in 1948. My husband Ricky would share with me what he went through during the war, and throughout these 14 years, what pained me most was that with each passing year, there were fewer and fewer survivors. I knew many of these survivors personally and the bill we passed was our last resort to recognize them. This recognition of our survivors was my guiding principle, and I hope that our community understands that at every step, when difficult decisions needed to be made, I consulted our people, and we moved forward, together
Additionally, I recognize that the section 30 funding source continues to raise concerns among our leaders. I will continue my efforts to build on this achievement and work to find a solution to hold Guam’s treasury harmless in carrying out this law. I have written to the Trump Administration to request its support for war claims in the President’s budget, and I hope Governor Calvo will support me in this effort. I am also exploring alternative funding streams that could utilize money that has been unspent from other claims programs. But if we are not successful, the law ensures that our manamko’ will receive their compensation. And I have heard from our constituents about this matter and what matters above all else that there is funding to pay claims and we do not leave our manamko’ with unmet promises.
And so in this vein, I want to make a few points concerning the status of war claims:
- The claims process will be administered by the Department of Justice’s Foreign Claims Settlement Commission;
- Presently, this Commission is in the rulemaking stage for establishing the claims process for eligible individuals and is expected to complete this stage on or about June 20, 2017;
- After which, the final claims process and procedures will be announced by the Commission so that eligible applicants may begin to submit their claims for adjudication;
- Lastly, eligible applicants will then have up to one year from June 20, 2017 to file a claim directly with the Commission.
My office has met with the Commission’s leadership, and we are working together to ensure that proper notification and reasonable accommodations are provided when the claims process begins. I want to acknowledge the leadership and efforts of former Senator Frank Blas Jr.’s Guam War Survivors Foundation as well as Senator Telena Nelson, who has been visiting our Senior Citizen centers to discuss this process, for their work to assist anyone who needs help with filing a claim. We are one step closer to righting this injustice and bringing this chapter to a close.
And as a final note, I want to thank my predecessors—the late Congressmen Antonio Won Pat and Ben Blaz, and former Congressman Robert Underwood—for their leadership in laying the foundation that made passage of this bill possible. I also want to recognize the members of the Guam War Claims Review Commission, especially the late Tony Unpingco, our current Speaker BJ Cruz, and Chairman Mauricio Tamargo, for their work on publishing the report that was critical to our efforts. And to the memory of our manamko’ who have passed on and to whom we pay tribute, and to those with us today—this achievement pales in comparison to the burden you bore for our country and island, and I express my most sincere Si Yu’os Ma’ase for your patience and faith that I would never turn my back and give up on you. This achievement is yours and while we will never erase the tragic memories of that period, there’s now a sense of closure and recognition and at last we can move forward, together.
Defense and Security
As we work to close this chapter in our history and resolve war claims for our survivors and families, we must look forward to Guam’s future and the opportunities that lie ahead. I continue to support the Marine realignment and work to ensure that it is good for our local community. However, we are at a very different place now. With the election of President Trump, the new Administration has focused on an “America First” doctrine and this has very real implications for our island. While President Trump may adjust course, it is vital that Congress continues to check the executive branch and ensure that our relationships and posture in the region endure.
This is even more important because of recent world events and the growing uncertainty in the region. This past weekend’s failed missile test and the escalating rhetoric by North Korea is destabilizing to our security and that of our allies. History cannot repeat itself, and I want to assure our people that we remain safe, and the United States will protect Guam from threats that may arise. We are an important part of the American family, and I continue to work with DOD and all our federal partners to keep our island secure.
In light of these events, I am encouraged that forward progress continues to be made on the realignment. We expect to break ground on the Marine Corps Base later this year, and we are making critical investments in civilian infrastructure that will benefit our local community. However, there are still challenges that we are working to address with our federal partners. Our work to ensure the Marine realignment is a success will never end and we must remain vigilant and fight for this program to be a success. You don't see real gains without hard work and some sacrifice. For my part I will remain a consistent and steadfast supporter of this program and I stand ready to offer legislation to address these challenges when it is necessary as I have always done.
After years of effort in Congress, we lifted the remaining restrictions on water and wastewater improvements, and just last summer, over $55 million was awarded for improvements to Guam’s civilian water and wastewater system. And I appreciate the leadership of Senator Tom Ada to improve our local civilian infrastructure systems. I applaud his continued efforts to work with GWA to integrate the water systems –our ultimate goal is that we have one civilian system that waters the Navy. In last year’s bill we also lifted restrictions on the development of a cultural repository. Additionally, the FY17 defense bill included $249.5 million in military construction, and while we have not yet seen an FY18 budget, I expect to see continued requests from DOD for projects on Guam.
Further, I continue to hold the Navy accountable to its commitment to return lands to the Government of Guam as part of their “Net Negative” strategy. I successfully included language in the FY17 defense bill that requires the Navy to report explicitly its intentions with lands it currently possesses and which properties it expects to return. The Navy must fulfill its promises and produce real concessions that translate to significant land returns for our people.
I will also continue to hold the Trump Administration accountable for maintaining a full ship repair capability on Guam. The Trump Administration can't claim "America First" without repairing in America. It's time we stop sending ships abroad for repairs when a little investment here would be a better demonstration of their "One Guam" commitments. The Navy's continued obstruction and gutting of ship repair capability on Guam will not be tolerated and is strategically foolish.
As I have stated time again, the realignment bolsters our economy, and the people of Guam and the U.S government mutually benefit when we work together. These investments translate to jobs and economic growth. I am grateful for the support of the Guam Chamber of Commerce, and in particular their Armed Forces Committee. I also appreciate the support of the Guam Contractors Association for the Marine realignment. I have been proud to fight not only to protect this investment but so that our island and people benefit from it. As Ranking Member of the Readiness Subcommittee, I will continue to lead the effort in Congress and with DOD. But we will only be successful if we work together, move forward, together as “One Guam” to ensure that the realignment remains a win-win for our civilian and military communities.
Now along the way, there have been setbacks and challenges. In fact, the nearly 100% denial rate of H-2B visas has slammed the breaks on progress at every level in our community and like a mad driver in rush hour traffic, believe me when I say I want to resolve this faster than anyone can imagine. Like many, I am frustrated with these denials and the resulting labor shortages that strain our industries. I understand Governor Calvo’s view that Guam’s civilian community should not be disproportionally affected, and I share his desire to resolve this issue.
I appreciate that Governor Calvo has indicated that he remains a strong supporter of the military build-up but that our labor challenges have forced his hand until we can resolve this issue. Guam is exempted from the national H-2B visa caps because of the buildup, and I have communicated regularly with senior DOD and DHS officials to seek a solution to reduce the number of application denials. Because the Administration made it clear that changes to internal policy guidance would not be a viable option, I worked closely with the Navy and USCIS to develop language that we included in last year’s House defense bill. Unfortunately because of the political sensitivities on issues relating to immigration, especially during last year’s election year, the Senate Judiciary Committee prevented the language from being included in the final bill. I have received a personal commitment from House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, who visited Guam late last year, to revisit this issue, and I will work with him and my colleagues on the Armed Services Committee to have it included in this year’s bill.
I have also met with numerous stakeholders who have been strained by this, and I believe that we must continue to engage with our federal partners, especially as we anticipate hundreds of millions of dollars in military construction. It is through this partnership, and because of the buildup, that I believe we will be able to provide some immediate relief for our labor force. However, looking at the long-term it is clear that this ordeal requires legislation that would grant our economy more flexibility in reaching a foreign workforce. This is a long-term goal because it would need to be part of any comprehensive immigration reform that may be revisited by Congress. As such, I will introduce legislation to carve out a unique immigration program for Guam, to provide a long-term solution to our labor needs. This bill will address the labor deficiencies that are affecting industries outside of the military, including civilian construction and maintenance, health care, and hospitality. However, with a Trump Administration and Republican-controlled Congress that is unwilling to discuss comprehensive immigration reform that is so badly needed. This will not be easy and will require additional information and data that backs-up our arguments. We must craft an argument that demonstrates Guam’s unique needs and this requires continued education and advocacy in Washington.
More than ever, this effort requires us to continue our “One Guam” voice and maintain cooperative engagement with our federal partners. I thank Senator Regine Biscoe Lee for underscoring this issue with a recent Congressional Delegation that visited Guam. Undermining the build-up at this stage will only weaken our ability to influence discussions made by the federal agencies. After years of delays, millions of dollars of investment, and diligent consideration of cultural, environmental, and political factors, we have no option but to move forward, together as “One Guam”.
While resolving our workforce challenges is a key part of building a strong economy, more must be done and more can done to diversify it so that we can sustain that growth with good paying jobs and even more opportunities for our people.
While Guam has seen record-setting visitor arrivals, I continue to be concerned by the long visitor wait times at the airport, which at times exceeds two hours. I am working with GVB, the airport administration, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and other stakeholders to find a solution to this problem. To address these long wait times, earlier this month, I reintroduced legislation that would establish an Electronic System for Travel Authorization, or ESTA, for the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program and direct that all revenues collected from this program will stay on Guam and the CNMI for operations and staff at our ports of entry. The bill would transition the manual forms that foreign visitors are required to complete to an electronic system. Our airport is the first impression visitors have of Guam, and we must ensure that we put our best foot forward from the moment they arrive on island.
I also hope that we will continue to expand our visitor outreach to attract visitors from new markets. I support efforts to expand our Visa Waiver Program to include new countries like Vietnam, and I continue to encourage Governor Calvo to use authorities Congress extended to him in 2009 to petition DHS to include emerging markets. I commend Senator Dennis Rodriguez for his advocacy to include the Philippines, Vietnam and other countries in Southeast Asia. I also recognize Senator Mary Torres for exploring establishing a multi-purpose sports complex to expand sports-tourism. It is important that we move forward, together to make our case to the Trump Administration on the need to expand our visitor industry.
I also continue my efforts to give GovGuam the flexibility to extend Social Security to new government employees. I share the concerns of retirees and current government employees who are afraid that they will not be able to live off their retirement savings and I commend Speaker Cruz and Senator San Nicolas for advancing legislation in the last Legislature to reform the GovGuam retirement system, to include a mechanism to extend Social Security to new employees. I have been working with the House Ways and Means Committee, with the help of DOA Director Christine Baleto and ASC President David John, to move this bill in the House. I believe that we will have an opportunity to address this issue when Congress takes up tax reform in the coming months, and I will work to include this provision in the final package that is submitted to the President.
Additionally, I continue my efforts to provide a federal cover over to Guam and other territories for the Earned Income Tax Credit. It was helpful that the Congressional Task Force for Economic Growth in Puerto Rico recommended a cover over in their report to Congress on Puerto Rico’s continued fiscal crisis, and there continues to be support by Congressional leadership for extending any solutions for Puerto Rico to the other territories as well. I recognize the importance of the EITC to working families on Guam, and will work with my colleagues to submit a cover over provision in any tax reform package.
As we look to the future, we agree that real opportunity exists when our children are equipped with tools and training to get a good paying job. I have been a strong advocate for federal funding that promote school readiness from Head Start to post-secondary education. I commend the Guam Department of Education, the Guam Community College, and the University of Guam for their collective efforts in preparing our students for the future. I also commend Senator Joe San Agustin for his oversight over education and ensuring that funds are administered appropriately. The Trump Administration has promised to make deep cuts to the U.S. Department of Education and other federal agencies, which will significantly undermine our education institutions and leave our children worse off, but I promise to fight these cuts which are so critical to Guam.
Additionally, I remain committed to ensuring that Guam is included in proposals that improve STEM programs. Last year I spoke on the importance of developing a “Third Leg of the Economic Stool” as a way of leveraging our position in the Asia-Pacific region and the opportunities that will be available because of the buildup to build a strong IT and broadband industry. UOG has partnered with private organizations to enhance broadband availability, and several private businesses are also investing in IT infrastructure and capabilities. These are the jobs of the future and we must prepare for them.
I have also been proud to nominate some of Guam’s finest young men and women to the U.S. Service Academies. This year, 20 candidates applied for admission to the Academies, and I am always impressed by the caliber of these candidates which is a direct reflection on the hard work and mentorship of their parents, teachers, family members, and friends. Our island has a legacy of service and sacrifice to our U.S. military, so please join me in recognizing our service academy nominees and their families.
Now, I’m not being biased. Okay, maybe just a little. But there is no other Member of Congress prouder than their National Guard than me. Our Guardsmen contribute daily to our island’s security and prosperity and selflessly support our nation’s national defense missions around the world. They are among the most professional and committed in the nation, and I constantly highlight their capabilities when I meet with defense leaders, including the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, or Director of the Army or Air National Guard. I also continue to promote the men and women of our Guam National Guard, and work to integrate it into missions on island, such as the THAAD battery or the tanker mission at Andersen Air Force Base. Our Army and Air Guard, under the leadership of Adjutant General Roderick Leon Guerrero, stand ready to take additional responsibilities, and I thank them, as well as our active duty service members and Reservists, for their service to our island and our nation.
As we support our service members, we must also ensure that those who have served our nation have the care and benefits they have earned and deserve. Veteran health care and access to resources is a legislative priority for me, and I recently communicated with the House Appropriations Committee to stress the need for continued funding for Guam’s Community Based Outpatient Clinic. This $5.5 million dollar project will remodel the current clinic and add an additional 2,800 square feet. I am committed to seeing this project completed for our veterans.
On a national level, I have supported legislation to increase veteran services. I recently signed on to a bill to modernize the VA’s appeals process so that veterans’ appeals cases are heard more expeditiously and accurately. Additionally as a result of a provision I fought to include in the FY 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, the Government Accountability Office is currently conducting a review of the care provided to veterans in the Pacific region, and I thank Senator Aguon for his support and diligence on this issue. This review will give us a clear roadmap to what resources are needed to improve veterans’ services available on Guam.
I was also concerned by reports by a veteran who claimed to have used Agent Orange on Guam during the Vietnam War. While I believed DOD previously addressed this matter, the report brought to light new allegations, and I immediately requested a meeting with senior DOD officials to discuss those claims. At the meeting, I expressed the deep concerns of our community, and I asked DOD to explain the process of reviewing records of Agent Orange or other dioxin-based herbicides. Following our meeting, DOD reported that Agent Orange and other herbicides were not used, stored, or transshipped through Guam.
Let me be clear, I am not convinced that DOD did their due-diligence to address our community’s concerns. For this reason, I am leading a bipartisan request for an independent review by the Government Accountability Office of all documentation available regarding Agent Orange and other dioxin-based herbicides on Guam. The GAO is uniquely positioned to review this matter because of their specialized mandate, experience as a check on the executive branch, and access to sensitive records that may not be made available to private organizations. Tasking the GAO with this mission ensures a truly independent review.
I commend Senators Fernando Esteves and Louise Muna for coordinating an effort locally on this issue and I am confident this joint effort between federal and local stakeholders will result in a thorough review and a way forward.
Additionally, I have appreciated the assistance I have received over the last 14 years from my Veterans Advisory Council. The Council recently elected new officers and members, and I look forward to continue working with them on behalf of our veteran community.
I also have deep concerns on the continued challenges we have with Compact Impact, and will continue to work to address their adverse impacts. Especially in light of escalating tension by North Korea, the Compacts are an important national security agreement to keep peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. However doing so cannot continue to come at the expense of our local government, and I have a bill ready to reintroduce this Congress to provide alternative solutions to our challenges. The political climate in Washington, where the Administration is making significant cuts to nondefense programs across our government, makes it unlikely that we will see any direct increase in Compact impact during the Trump Administration. But, my bill offers creative solutions in areas that are most impacted:
- First the bill will address health care by allowing GovGuam to use so-called unreimbursed Compact impact towards paying for Medicaid benefits provided to local residents;
- Second the bill will address education by including Compact migrant students in the federal Impact Aid program;
- And third, the bill will address the underlying challenges of Compact impact by commissioning a study on viability of the Compacts and make recommendations to Congress moving forward.
This bill will also include language to make Compact migrants eligible for AmeriCorps. I continue to believe that COFA migrants should be able to serve in our communities, just as they are eligible to serve in our military and receive federal student aid. We should be promoting these programs and making it easier for COFA migrants to give back to Guam, and I will continue my efforts on this.
These are some of the creative solutions that we can make to help alleviate the financial challenges of the Compacts. Doing so will free up local resources to pay for other priorities like investments in infrastructure, public schools and helping Guam Memorial make its payments.
This past March, President Trump and Congressional Republicans attempted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. While they were not successful because of disagreements within their party, their efforts raised serious concerns because it did not address the unique challenges in the territories and proposed significant cuts and changes to Medicaid and the essential health benefits. I appreciated that Governor Calvo and the other governors of the territories submitted their proposals to Republican leadership as this bill was being drafted, and I believe it was an injustice that they were ignored. However, my colleagues and I developed an amendment that would address the specific needs of the territories—specifically ensuring that federal reimbursements are on par with the states, removing the territories’ Medicaid caps, and providing eligibility to COFA migrants in the Medicaid program. I will also push to have Guam and the territories included in any new high risk pool that is currently being discussed by Congressional leaders. We will work to include these changes should Republicans bring this issue to the floor for consideration.
We must also work to preserve and protect our environment for future generations. I am very concerned with the deep cuts and regulatory cancellations the Trump Administration has proposed and begun to implement. These actions may have significant consequences on our ability to combat climate change and the growing demands placed on our natural resources. Here on Guam, our natural resources are an important part of our culture and identity, and I appreciate the work of Senators Jim Espaldon, Will Castro and Tommy Morrison for their work on environmental issues in the Legislature. We rely on the beauty and bounty of our island to sustain our families, support our economy, and teach our Chamorro culture to our children. The challenges that we face require that we balance limited resources, responsible management, and scientific research in a way that recognizes the strains that we are placing on our planet. Unfortunately, the Majority in Congress and the Administration deny these challenges. As a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, I will do all that I can to fight these harmful policies and support legislation that will conserve, protect, and cultivate our natural resources, and empower our local community to do the same. Our saina entrusted us with the island that we have, and we must work to protect it.
In addition to protecting our environment, we must always work to preserve our Chamorro language and culture. Throughout my years in public service, I have done just that by introducing and passing bills in the Guam Legislature, and making it a personal commitment to continue this advocacy in Washington. I have been proud of the efforts we have made to ensure that our children inherit a rich and thriving culture, and Vice Speaker Therese Terlaje has been a champion for our cultural preservation. I also commend our cultural organizations for their deep passion and for teaching our culture and ensuring that our Chamorro identity is passed from this generation to the next.
Additionally last year, I was filled with pride as I participated in the ceremonies when Guam hosted the Festival of Pacific Arts. FESTPAC brought together thousands of cultural practitioners and artists to showcase the diverse heritages of our islands. Our entire community came together to showcase the Chamorro culture and extend our island hospitality. This was truly a whole of community effort, and the lasting impact that event had on our community can be felt even today.
As I close this evening, some of you might remember our family discussion we had at the kitchen table during my congressional address in 2012 regarding self-determination. I cautioned that we must resolve our issues as a family rather than relying on a decision from a federal court concerning the controversial plebiscite. Last month, the decision in the Davis lawsuit bore truth to that statement before we were able to resolve it as a family.
I share Dr. Underwood’s sentiment that the decision was “dispiriting and discouraging although not unexpected.” I have always supported the right of Chamorros to have their say in how they want to see their island move forward. I recognize the deep passions that this issue raises with our people across the political spectrum, and rightfully so as this vote will hold a special significance for our Chamorro people.
Although I have made Guam my home for nearly 70 years, for me personally, I recognize that I would not have been able to vote when our Chamorro people would have exercised that right, but I believe it is appropriate that they do so after so many years of being disenfranchised.
In the final analysis—even though I profess I’m Chamorro at heart—I understand and respect the unique experiences and colonial history that can only belong to the indigenous Chamorro people and their desire to decolonize.
One does not have to turn the clock so far back to remember the obstacles and low points in what has been and continues to be a long quest for Chamorro self-determination. Let us chart a forward course in a way where the views of the Chamorro people are respected and the voices of all Guam’s residents are heard. This must be achieved once and for all.
My dear people of Guam, it has been my honor to come before you this evening to report on federal issues important to Guam. In all my years in Congress, the political landscape in Washington has never been this bitter and we seem to be navigating through a climate of chaos, uncertainty and instability. Here at home, despite our differences, one thing that I have always appreciated is that we are all guided by our common desire to help our island and our people. I know we will not agree on every issue that I have talked about tonight, but I hope that our culture of respect and resilience will endure at each instance. Take a look around – we are building; we are growing; we are preserving; and we are sowing. Sure, we have had our fair share of rough times, but we dusted ourselves off because we always knew that the Guam we want for our children is within reach. We all need to believe it. We all need to Move Forward, Together.
Thank you and Si Yu’os Ma’ase.