New Rules For Am. Samoa Immigration Board Nominees

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Prospective members must prove local ancestry, U.S. nationality

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, March 18, 2013) – For the first time in recent history, the Senate Judiciary Committee is requiring the American Samoa Government’s (ASG) Immigration Board nominees to prove they are either US Nationals or citizens of American Samoan ancestry and to provide their resumes.

Chairman Sen. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono told the nominees who appeared before his committee last Friday that the Senate will not vote on any of the five nominees until the committee receives a copy of their passports, birth certificates and ID to show where they were born. He also asked for their resumes.

Only three of the Governor's five nominees to the Immigration Board appeared for the confirmation hearing on Friday - Rev. Fred Mamea, Sherry Butler and Moetulu’i Sipili Fuiava. All three told the committee they were born in American Samoa.

No reason was given for the other two nominees, Frank Gaisoa and Rev. Aneterea Misioka's, absence.

Soliai also announced his committee will delay reporting the names of the three nominees present, to the full Senate membership for a vote, until the absent nominees complete their — not yet scheduled — confirmation hearing.

HEARING

At the start of Friday's 45-minute hearing, Soliai instructed committee members to focus the hearing solely on the board nominations since the Senate had already rejected the Administration bill, which sought to increase board members from five to nine.

Soliai reminded the committee, as well as the witnesses [nominees], of the local statute that currently states only "nationals of the United States of American Samoan ancestry" qualify to be a board member.

Rev. Mamea was asked the same question posed to him during his House confirmation hearing — about sponsoring foreigners.

His response was the same — he sponsors his wife and wife’s sister and four Chinese nationals who have since been informed by letter they need to find a new sponsor, because he can no longer be the sponsor due to his new appointment to the Immigration Board. He added that Chinese nationals use his church for their services and they asked him to sponsor these four Chinese people.

(The House initially rejected Mamea's nomination, 10 to 9 but Rep. Florence Saulo moved to reconsider the vote at a later time. It is unclear when the House will vote again on it.)

Although Deputy Attorney General Salo Ale testified two weeks ago before the Senate that there is no law that currently prohibits Immigration board members from being sponsors, Sen. Faumuina Tagisiaali’i said a big loophole in local immigration policies is the conflict of interest created when board members sponsor foreigners.

Sen. Mauga T. Asuega said that one of the big problems at the Immigration Office is that employees want something in return for their work and that is not good for this office that oversees immigration matters.

Also, people answering the phones at the Immigration Office are very rude except when they are made aware that it's a lawmaker on the line, then the treatment is different. "Everyone should be treated the same across the board," said Mauga, who urged the nominees to do the right thing when it comes to foreigners entering and residing in the territory.

He said ASG must fully enforce its immigration laws and questions have been raised in the past if it is best to have the federal government take over local immigration services. He had more questions but said he would wait to call the nominees back if they are confirmed by the Fono.

Other senators pointed out long standing complaints and concerns, because of the problems that come out of the Immigration Board and Immigration Office. The nominees were urged to fully review the law and make the right decisions.

Sen. Alo Fa’auuga said there are too many overstayers in the territory and the overstayers become a problem to American Samoa when they violate the law. He said many of the overstayers are only known when they commit a crime and appear in court.

Soliai reiterated in his closing remarks that the board should have only five members and the Fono would probably look into some sort of compensation for this board, such as for expenses incurred for carrying out duties of the board. He then said that resumes for all nominees are also required by the committee.

Soliai cautioned that the Immigration board must also pay close attention to fights and peace disturbances in villages, because most of the trouble makers are foreigners. For example, in his village of Nu’uuli, which is controlled by its Council of Chiefs, any fights and trouble there are caused by foreigners, who are not natives of the village.

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