Skip to content

Honolulu Star-Advertiser Endorses Hirono Measures Included In Immigration Bill

In today’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the newspaper’s editorial board endorsed Senator Mazie K. Hirono’s measure in the immigration reform bill that would restore Medicaid eligibility for COFA migrants, saving the state millions each year. The editorial board also praised other amendments that Hirono convinced her colleagues to include in the bill that would boost tourism, help Hawaii fishermen and reunite Filipino World War II veterans with their children.

The entire editorial reads below:

June 13, 2013

Feds should help Pacific islanders


Over since Congress abandoned its responsibility to provide Medicaid to Pacific islanders, Hawaii has been saddled with the bill — hundreds of millions of dollars in medical costs for migrants who have the right to live and work in the U.S.

A proposal to remedy this problem is included in the comprehensive immigration bill before the U.S. Senate. It deserves strong congressional support, along with other amendments that relate to Hawaii.

The bipartisan Gang of Eight senators who put together the immigration reform package last month were offered 301 amendments from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which 92 were approved, mostly technical. Among the more substantive was Sen. Mazie Hirono's amendment to reverse the elements of a mistake made 17 years ago by Congress, a mistake it has been reluctant to correct.

More than 50,000 people — nearly one-fourth of the populations of the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia — have moved to the U.S., including 13,231 in Hawaii and at least 10,000 in Arkansas.

Their education and medical care cost Hawaii $114.9 million in 2010, up from $32 million in 2002, according to Gov. Neil Abercrombie. The state Department of Human Services spent $42.7 million on Medicaid-related benefits to the Pacific migrants — $26.4 million of it on services for able-bodied adults, $14.1 million for the aged, blind and disabled and $2.2 million for children and pregnant women. Restoration of Medicaid eligibility would cut the state expenditure in half, according to the department.

Those expenses should have been paid by the federal government under the 1985 Compact of Free Association Act, as compensation for past U.S. nuclear testing and defense uses, but a 1996 welfare reform law erased the migrants' eligibility for Medicaid. In 2010, a federal judge ordered Hawaii's government to restore life-saving health care to low-income migrants. Many Pacific islanders migrate to Hawaii mainly to receive that health care.

Clearly, Hawaii and other states should not continue to be stuck with the bill. The federal government should keep its promise to provide health care and education in return for Marshall Islands landowners allowing the U.S. use of the Kwajalein missile testing range through 2066,an extension of U.S. nuclear-weapons testing in the area from 1946 to 1958.

Hirono said she expects her amendment to remain in the immigration bill as long as it moves forward.

The same should go for other Hawaii-related immigration amendments accepted by the Gang of Eight. Those include:

» Making Hong Kong eligible for the visa waiver program, proposed by Hirono and Utah Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee and applauded by the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Only 5,162 Hong Kong residents visited Hawaii last year.

» Granting U.S. citizenship to children of Filipino veterans of World War II who were granted citizenship in recognition of their service.

» Allowing Hawaii longline fishing vessels to temporarily rotate foreign crews in Hawaii, amending a federal law that requires U.S. fleets to rotate their foreign crews only at foreign ports. Mainland fleets abide by rotating crews in Canada or Mexico, but Hawaii-based vessels now have to make a two-week round trip to reach the nearest foreign port.

The Senate on Tuesday voted strongly, 82-15, to open debate on the 867-page immigration bill and it should be approved in that chamber by the Democratic majority, with amendments intact. Approval by the House is less certain. For Hawaii, though, these amended proposals should be considered a plus.