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Bills provide equality for scholarships

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A pair of bills is before the Guam Legislature aimed at ending "statutory discrimination" against residents under the Compacts of Free Association - from ensuring equality in scholarship programs to who can join the police force. University of Guam president Dr. Robert Underwood says at the courtesy of Guam taxpayers, UOG is the only institution of the world that gives resident tuition to all students from the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands.

"Already the University of Guam is providing a lot of assistance and education over the years," he explained. So when it comes to Vice Speaker BJ Cruz's Bill 61 otherwise known as the equal opportunity in Higher Education Act of 2015, as an educator, he supports it. "In this particular instance, what we have are non-residents who have been here a long time and now Senator Cruz is seeking to make them eligible for student financial scholarships that are normally awarded only to permanent residents and US citizens," he added.

Bill 61 would amend all four articles dealing with UOG financial aid programs to extend eligibility to otherwise qualified non immigrant aliens admitted under the Compacts of Free Association. Underwood says this bill would be unprecedented as he doesn't believe this would be available in any state for COFA residents. "What we have in the instance of non-residents, migrants is they have the right to be here, but there has been no affirmative step taken as to whether they want to be permanent members of this society and yet we are according them benefits as if they were permanent residents of this society. That's an important policy issue, so people just need to be aware of that and I think it goes beyond the scholarships," he said.

Underwood adds overtime, he believes this bill if passed is likely to lead to all non-residents becoming eligible for all kinds of resident programs beyond scholarships. Underwood says enrolled students only list their ethnicity with about 7-8% reporting belonging to COFA states.

In the meantime, along with Bill 61, Cruz has introduced another measure allowing capable COFA residents to serve as police reservists. Bill 65 would amend sections of the civilian volunteer police reserve to clear impediments for the recruitment of qualified COFA migrants. Governor Eddie Calvo says he's generally in support of the Cruz's motives, as he added, "So I would assume it is in the intent of Senator Cruz to try to build a police force or law enforcement that is in line with the demographics of the people of Guam as well and I think it's important you have to be able to communicate and understand the different individuals and ethnicities and cultures that are in Guam, so I'm generally in support of it even though I've yet to see the bill."

Cruz in a release says, "I want to give law-abiding COFA citizens more skin in this game, this is their community too and those who are willing and qualified to do the job should share in the responsibility of making our community safer."

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