Citizens of the freely associated states (FAS) have the freedom to travel and work in the United States, but they do not have the same rights and privileges enjoyed by U.S. citizens.
To see how this dynamic can play out, we can turn to U.S. law governing housing assistance for low-income families.
The Bordallo amendment
In 2015, the U.S. territory of Guam faced a housing shortage.
Part of the reason for the housing scarcity was the influx of migrants coming from the freely associated states of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federal States of Micronesia.
This concerned Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-Guam). As she told the local press, “homeless data show that local residents of Guam make up over forty percent of the homeless on Guam and this is simply unacceptable.”
In response, Delegate Bordallo introduced an amendment to the Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act of 2015 (H.R. 3700) to give U.S. citizens and nationals a preference over migrants from the three freely associated states when receiving federal housing assistance in Guam.
As Rep. Bordallo explained in the Saipan Tribune, “I continue to support allowing COFA migrants to receive housing assistance; otherwise our housing situation in Guam and other affected jurisdictions would get even worse. However, it was not the intent of Congress to displace our citizens when it extended eligibility to migrants in 2000. Unfortunately, limited resources have led many U.S. citizens in Guam to be displaced by COFA migrants who have entered our country as a result of the Compacts of Free Association.”
The House of Representatives accepted the Bordallo amendment. H.R. 3700 then passed the House by a unanimous vote of 427 to zero and was enacted into law.
The current law
Today, the law reads:
§1436a. Restriction on use of assisted housing by non-resident aliens
(a) Conditions for assistance
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the applicable Secretary may not make financial assistance available for the benefit of any alien unless that alien is a resident of the United States and is-
(7) an alien who is lawfully resident in the United States and its territories and possessions under section 141 of the Compacts of Free Association between the Government of the United States and the Governments of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia (48 U.S.C. 1901 note) and Palau (48 U.S.C. 1931 note) while the applicable section is in effect: Provided, That, within Guam any 1 citizen or national of the United States shall be entitled to a preference or priority in receiving financial assistance before any such alien who is otherwise eligible for assistance.
A new report from the Congressional Research Service reinforces the point that citizens of the freely associated states are eligible for federal housing assistance. They are not, however, equally eligible with citizens of the United States.
Regardless of their eligibility for federal programs, migrants from the Freely Associated States can face discrimination when competing with U.S. citizens for scarce resources in the states.
And this discrimination is legal.
The reality is clear: Citizens of a nation in free association with the U.S. cannot rely on having equality with U.S. citizens when they move to a state.