October 31, 2011

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

October 27, 2011 Palikir, Pohnpei, FSM-Anxious to gain a better understanding of the living circumstances of the estimated 50,000 plus FSM citizens currently living in Guam, Hawai'i, and the continental United States, the FSM government is preparing to conduct a confidential survey.

The survey is expected to take approximately four months to complete once it has begun in earnest and is not a "full census" of all FSM migrants to Guam and the U.S. Sociologist, Father Frances Hezel, former director of the Micronesia Seminar (MicSem), and demographer Mike Levin who has conducted several censuses in the FSM and in many other places throughout the world have been contacted about the possibility of conducting the survey.

Early list building work has already begun even though, according to the FSM Office of Statistics, Budget, and Overseas Coordination (SBOC), the funding is in no way set in concrete. A SBOC official said that the Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) has indicated some possible willingness to consider the prospect of funding the survey but that SBOC has not yet completed its funding proposal.

The Public Information Officer for the FSM, Marz Akapito said that President Manny Mori has long wanted to conduct a survey of FSM citizens living in Guam and the U.S. and it is still his desire to do so but that nothing is yet final.

Some FSM Senators, in "off journal" conversations on the floor of the FSM Congress have mentioned a survey to be conducted with the help of Father Hezel. But the fact that it was actively being pursued first came onto our radar screen through a Facebook posting on the "Kolonians" group. The posting included a link to a confidential online questionnaire asking for names, addresses, telephone numbers, sex, date of birth, state or U.S. citizenship, names and ages of household members, level of education, and employment status of FSM migrants.

Two days ago a similar posting appeared at the top of the MicSem Discussion Forum (MicSem Forum) asking the anonymous poster's there to fill out the same survey.

That message said that Herman Semes, Jr. is assisting in the survey by gathering preliminary information on FSM migrants to the U.S.

The preliminary FSM citizen list building survey is powered by "Survey Monkey," and information provided there is to be completely confidential. The online survey will only be used to establish contact data for future random selections from the "deep pool" of contact data.

The actual survey will be much more extensive. "Before we randomly select the households to be interviewed in the survey, we need contact information for as many FSM migrants as possible," the MicSem posting said. "Ideally, we would like to have the names of all Micronesians in the U.S., but we know that this is impossible. We'll settle for a very large number so that we have a deep pool from which to select those who will be interviewed. The survey won't carry the weight it should if we don't have thousands of names to select from."

If the face to face survey is funded organizers hope to interview 300 FSM migrants in Guam, another 300 in Hawai'i, and 200 or so in the continental United States all of them randomly selected from the "deep pool" of names and households that is currently being gathered.

"In the course of the survey, we will be doing lengthy interviews with hundreds of Micronesian households in Guam Hawai'i, and the mainland U.S. to gain a reliable picture of how island people are managing their families, educating their children, and interacting with both local communities and their friends and family back in the islands," the MicSem Forum posting said. "Once the survey is completed, we will be writing a report on the findings that will be distributed to our leaders in FSM as well as to U.S. officials who are reviewing those parts of the Compact agreement that touch on the rights of FSM citizens to migrate to the U.S."

The MicSem Forum message was met with no small amount of skepticism regarding the confidentiality of the initial data gathering efforts of the survey takers.

One anonymous poster said that he would be glad to provide the information by phone but that doing so over the Internet was asking too much. The poster wrote that he or she had provided only enough information for a phone contact and no more.

Father Hezel, who posts in the MicSem Forum only rarely and always under his own name, assured the anonymous posters that the only people who would have access to the personal data would be Mike Levin and himself.

"No one in any government will have access to it," he wrote. "The whole idea of the survey, remember, is to ensure that the U.S. governors and others in Washington have access to reliable information on island migrants so they can avoid biased judgments. The benefits of the survey are obvious to me," he wrote. "I suggest you buy into it with the assurance that your contact information will not be misused."

One of the questions raised by a MicSem Forum poster responding to the message regarding the preliminary survey was that comparatively few FSM citizens have access to computers and that many of them would never see the preliminary survey.

Though Father Hezel did respond by email to our earlier questions about the survey he had not by press time responded to our follow up questions regarding strategies to ensure that indigent FSM migrants would be represented in the survey. His previous email responses had been "off the record."

FSM citizens are allowed to freely travel to the United States to study and to work under the Compact of Free Association between the FSM and the United States. Almost since the inception of that agreement U.S. states have complained to the Federal government that the cost burden of FAS citizens living in their states is higher than the U.S. Government provides in Compact Impact funds.

The FSM and the other Micronesian Freely Associated States (FAS) have been under pressure from influential members of the U.S. Congress including Hawaii's powerful Senator Daniel Inouye, the Dean of the United States Senate and Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, to reduce the financial impact of their citizens who live in the U.S. and its territories.

Hawai'i's Governor Neil Abercrombie said in a report to the U.S. Department of Interior that FAS citizens are costing his state more than 11 times more than the $10 million it receives annually in Compact Impact funds.

David Gootnick, the lead author of a US Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on Compact Impact mandated by representatives of the U.S. Congres wrote in an email that the GAO report will be completed by the end of October or by early November.

Apparently the GAO report has had several "deadlines" come and go.

In May, FSM Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Lorin Robert said that the GAO report was due to be released in July. He was responding then to our inquiry about FSM reactions to a May 12 letter sent by a committee of high level members of Congress to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Secretary of the Interior, Kenneth Salazar seeking support to restrict the flow of FAS citizens. Secretary Robert said the committee should have waited until GAO report they requested was completed.

Over a year earlier, during an interview in April of 2010, Allen Stayman, staff member of the Senate Committee that has oversight of the Department of the Interior (DOI) said, "So what's going to happen, and I want people (in the FSM) to be aware, is that when this report comes out in nine months there's going to be a problem of political reaction. We can guess what GAO's findings are going to be. There's a very high impact and that's going to trigger these states to want to respond in some way."

"Now is the time to start thinking (in the FSM) about what can be done," Stayman implored. "Be proactive instead of reactive." He said that message was the principal reason for his trip nearly a year and a half ago.

Even while Stayman was giving his interview his predicted "political reaction" to the State costs of the Compact was not only already well on its way it began not too long after, to escalate and intensify.

The May 12 letter to the Department of State and DOI was not the first volley in the Compact Impact skirmish but it made a resounding noise followed shortly thereafter by a cacophony.

In his committee's Homeland Security budget approved by the Senate last month, Senator Inouye directed the department to "implement all legally allowable grounds of inadmissibility under the Compact which apply to nationals from the FAS."