U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa said today that if she is elected governor she plans to sue the federal government to demand more support for Pacific Islanders who immigrate to Hawaii under the Compact of Free Association.
Hanabusa made her comments during a forum this morning with Gov. David Ige at the Prince Waikiki hotel in which Ige listed his accomplishments in developing new housing stock and cooling public school classrooms, and questioned Hanabusa’s environmental record.
Hanabusa is challenging Ige in the Democratic primary election for governor. The forum today was sponsored by the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association, the Waikiki Improvement Association, the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, and the Waikiki Neighborhood Board.
Ige questioned why Hanabusa opposed the expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument by former President Barack Obama in his final months in office.
Hanabusa noted she was one of a number of Hawaii political figures who questioned the expansion of the monument, including former Govs. George Ariyoshi and Ben Cayetano, and the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka.
She described the expansion as “purely a political decision,” and said critics believed that “it took away from the people who should be making the decisions, people like for example the governors, to determine whether or not this was necessary and how you would do it, and how you would actually manage the space.”
Ige countered that the expansion of the monument actually gives the state more input into “the protection of this valuable and important resource.” He said the monument was designed to avoid hurting local fishermen.
When the discussion turned to immigration, Hanabusa focused on the cost of providing medical care to citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau who come to Hawaii under the COFA agreement.
It is the federal government’s obligation to provide homes, education and medical care to COFA migrants, she said, but Hawaii bears much of the cost.
“I’ve always felt that — and waited to see whether any governor would do it — is whether or not a governor had the intestinal fortitude to take on the federal government, and to sue them for the COFA fair share,” said Hanabusa, who is a lawyer. “The only way we’re going to get the attention of the federal government is that state will have to sue them.”
Ige agreed that COFA migrants “certainly do put a significant impact on the infrastructure in Hawaii. We do, because of who we are and what we stand for, we do welcome the migrants into our communities.”
Providing education and health care to those migrants costs the state hundreds of millions of dollars, “so certainly we advocate and work with our congressional delegation to pursue reimbursement of those costs. We believe that that’s the right thing for the federal government to do, it’s unfortunate that their view is different than ours.”