IMMIGRATION FRAUD RAISES CONCERN IN AMERICAN SAMOA

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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, Oct. 18) - Senate President Lolo M. Moliga has suggested to Gov. Togiola Tulafono that the Administration should solicit the help of the federal government to resolve issues regarding immigration and customs.

Lolo, who is usually against federal intervention, believes American Samoa is facing a serious problem with customs and immigration that maybe the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency can help resolve.

Lolo told Samoa News yesterday the need for federal intervention is evident with latest court case over Immigration cards.

He said the Senate is conducting its own review of the local immigration system, to find out the number of foreigners in the territory, the actual amount of money collected in immigration bonds, who are the sponsors, and how many of those sponsors are employed with the local immigration office, which is a division of the Attorney General's Office.

"Immigration officers and personnel should not be sponsors to avoid any and all conflict of interest and impropriety," said Lolo. "This issue of the immigration bond is a very serious problem, which needs to be addressed. We need to get down to the bottom of this problem and resolved it as soon as possible."

(During the tenure of the late Attorney General Sialega Malaetasi Togafau, he directed all immigration employees who are sponsors of foreigners to give up their sponsorships.)

In a letter yesterday, Oct. 17 from Lolo to Togiola about soliciting federal assistance, Lolo said the lack of clearly defined and publicly articulated policies to guide the implementation of prevailing laws "has established an environment which has spawned corruption and possible violation of the immigrants' civil rights".

"Self-serving financial deals are being perpetrated by the employees usurping funds which belong to the American Samoa Government," wrote Lolo. "It has often been said, and soon to be verified, that some employees of the Immigration Officer are the worst violators of our immigration laws particular to the number of individuals being sponsored."

He said it has become a public knowledge that sponsorship has been used to extract money from those individuals being sponsored.

"With all due respect to our people upon whom we entrusted our faith to protect our Territory, the current plight is caused by their lack of commitment to the enforcement of our laws and opting for self-gain," Lolo told the governor. "Regrettably, I don't think that any type of local intervention will change the prevailing operating culture which seems to be fueled by interests of self-gain and instant gratification."

The Senate President then "respectfully" suggested to the governor that ASG solicit the help of the federal immigration and customs services "to help us resolve these crippling problems".

He recommended that ASG allowed the federal government for a two-year period "to setup policies, rules and procedures to ensure that identified problems will be replicated."

"It is critically important that sufficient training is provided on the established systems to guarantee compliance," he said. "It is my hope that the Department of Interior will grant funds under its Technical Assistance Program to fund this assignment."

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