Gov. Eddie Calvo said his administration no longer supports the military buildup, citing the federal government's high rate of denials for Guam's temporary foreign worker visa applications. He called on the island's attorney general to join the lawsuit filed by a dozen Guam businesses contesting H-2B visa denials.
Calvo made the announcement at a Rotary Club of Guam meeting Thursday, April 6.
Twelve Guam businesses filed a federal lawsuit last October, alleging the high rejection rate constitutes an unlawful change in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service policy.
According to Calvo, across-the-board visa denials have been tantamount to "economic sabotage and warfare on loyal American citizens."
With all the disorganization in Washington, D.C., Calvo said, drastic steps are needed to draw attention to Guam.
"We are going to shake this tree. I want the buildup to happen, but at the rate we're going now, we are going to go from expansion to recession to depression — unless we fix this now. Ladies and gentlemen, I have just started to shake the tree."
Guam Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo said she understands Calvo’s frustrations.
“I agree that Republicans and the Trump administration have not demonstrated any willingness or initiative to address the unique challenges of our island,” she said. “I have been working diligently with (the Defense Department) to stress … the importance of the H-2B program to having an adequate workforce on Guam, and we are working to provide legislative relief in this year’s defense bill.”
She also said she still believes the military buildup will be good for Guam.
“We have invested heavily in supporting this buildup and while there have been challenges along the way, we continue to make progress to ensure that it is good for Guam and our people. Turning back now may jeopardize this progress, which includes significant civilian infrastructure investments.”
The island’s construction industry was hit with labor problems last year as the federal government denied almost all H-2B foreign worker visas. Hundreds of foreign workers were sent home.
Calvo said Guam has about a 2-percent approval rate for H-2B visas, and even that was a hard-won increase over universal denials.
That translates to approximately 170 foreign worker visas currently active, compared to approximately 1,200 from the same time last year, Calvo said.
Shortage of workers doesn't just threaten the buildup, but also local business on Guam, the governor said. Calvo cited recent construction projects that received no bids because local companies lack workers, as well as the rapidly rising cost of homebuilding. A potential economic downturn from these problems, Calvo said, will only mean "First World inside the gate" of military bases, and "Third World outside."
"The biggest obstacle to prosperity on Guam has not been any local politician, but the federal government," Calvo said. "We cannot afford to wait any longer."
Cultural advocate and independence movement supporter Michael Lujan Bevacqua said he's always opposed the buildup. Bevacqua, an assistant professor of Chamorro studies at University of Guam, said is pleased the governor is taking action.
"It's not about whether or not the buildup is good for Guam — it's that if you wanted to say no, how could you stop it? It's good to see the governor realizing that whether he wants the buildup or not, whether he thinks it's good for the island or not, it's out of his hands," Bevacqua said.
Real estate agent Beverly Brady also agreed with Calvo's decision.
"Personally, I think that we have to take action somehow. Something has to be done," Brady said. "We have to be heard."