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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, September 24, 2006

Micronesians deserve access to legal help

Nobody needs a law degree to conclude that it's nonsense to allow subsidized legal aid for some Micronesians but not for others.

The problem appears to be a federal regulation, based on the compacts the U.S. forged with the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Residents of these countries who by agreement are allowed to move freely to the U.S. and home again receive federally funded legal aid while they're home, but not while they're in Hawai'i or elsewhere in the U.S.

Clearly, this poses a problem for the state's growing Micronesian population, which is struggling against a language barrier and other hardships. Without access to an attorney's advice, many can easily trip up on various legal contracts and fall prey to scams.

It's illogical to assume that this deprivation saves the government money in the long run. People who run afoul of the law often find themselves in dire circumstances and may end up tapping tax coffers even more than if they had averted trouble in the first place.

There's a bill stalled in the U.S. Senate, that would clear this stumbling block. Congress needs to fully meet its obligations to the Micronesian population, and remove this pointless legal barrier.