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Amata emphasizes legislation and healthcare at IGIA

Amata and governor with others

Washington, D.C. — Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata took part in Tuesday’s Interagency Group on Insular Areas (IGIA) meetings, gave remarks, and spoke with various administration officials and the leaders of the territories. Congresswoman Amata highlighted her legislation for American Samoa, H.R. 6062 and H.R. 6061, along with the need for a comprehensive healthcare push in the Pacific Islands, and final passage of the COFA agreements with the Freely Associated States for national security partnerships.

Among the many officials in attendance were Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, co-hosting IGIA with former Labor Secretary Tom Perez; the Governors and Members of Congress from the territories; and officials from federal departments and agencies, including the Departments of State, Defense, and the Interior.

Amata’s statement to IGIA:

“Thank you Secretary Haaland for hosting the leadership of the U.S. insular areas for this annual consultation on federal-territorial relations.  And a special thank you Madam Secretary for your support with the State Department regarding our Governor’s application to be an associate member in the Pacific Islands Forum. In joining the Governor of American Samoa to speak for the people of our island homeland, our highest priorities must include thanking the Secretary and the Administration for supporting H.R. 6062, our bill to restore local self-determination on local amendments to the local constitution without requiring an additional act of Congress. 

“It is to be noted also that the hearing conducted on January 18 by our territories subcommittee chair, Harriet Hageman, was attended as well by Chairman Westerman. We created a record confirming that this legislation restores local self-government for all Americans in American Samoa, as defined and recognized under federal law and the Constitution of American Samoa.

“Congress authorized establishment of our constitutional amendment process, and retains oversight of home rule on local constitutional amendments that by definition are non-federal in scope and effect. 

“Accordingly, I am looking forward to working with the Governor, the Secretary of the Interior and House Natural Resources Committee leadership to bring H.R. 6062 to the House floor.  Enactment of this legislation will repeal the 1983 federal law that threatens to complicate and delay action by the Secretary on the amendments approved by majority rule in the local referendum of in 2022.

“In addition to that priority, in 2024 it is long overdue that we work with Congress and the Administration to resolve inconsistencies in federal law and policy, in order to preserve both the collective and individual status of U.S. nationals acquired under federal statute law based on birth in American Samoa.  At the same time, we need to enhance the ability of individuals with statutory nationality, who have under current law the same duty of allegiance to America as all other Americans, to be classified as statutory U.S. citizens. 

“To begin we need to understand better the historical, constitutional and political origins of the current law requiring ‘naturalization’ of nationals who already have U.S. nationality, because that policy in effect treats nationals as indistinguishable from aliens with no pre-existing U.S. nationality or duty of allegiance seeking naturalization. 

“That is why I have introduced, H.R. 6061, which is not the end but the beginning of the discussion on preservation of our rights as nationals, and our statutory right to be classified as citizens when it serves individual interests and those of the nation.         

“Turning now to COFA ratification, as a member of both the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee, I am reminded often that common sense on national security demands common sense on fiscal policy toward both territories and the COFA nations. 

“Both Chairman Westerman and Chairman McCaul have advised me we are going to roll up our sleeves and make concerted efforts to reconcile national security priorities and budget procedures, which has not been easy. 

“But it is clear delayed COFA renewal has not served the national interests.  One way of the other the uncertainty about COFA renewal must end to preserve continuity and confidence in the COFA alliance, and also support Hawaii and the U.S. territories that are part of the integrated U.S. regional commitment to democracy, freedom and security.   

“And, finally, to end with an issue close to my heart, I am hoping to work with Assistant Secretary Cantor on a project I know she will understand as our distinguished former Ambassador to Micronesia. As the representative for American Samoa I want to highlight the need for the U.S. to employ soft power in the Pacific Islands. Addressing the strengthening of health systems will do just that. My colleagues Congressman Dunn, Case, and I have written an initiative that will create committed linkages between U.S.-affiliated as well as non-affiliated Pacific Islands and will draw in our allies on the Pacific Rim for a rationalized regional health system. We plan to introduce legislation calling for the creation of a task force in order to outline the cost and feasibility of implementing what we call the Pacific Healthcare Initiative. In August, 2023, we sent a letter to Secretary Blinken and Secretary Haaland requesting their support for our initiative. We very much would like to have administration support for this initiative, which envisions all the three Pacific territories becoming regional health hubs, along with the state of Hawaii, and I am hoping the governors will take this up with Secretaries Campbell and Kritenbrink at lunch today [Tuesday, Feb. 20].”