Immigration Amnesty Bill Goes To Am. Samoa Governor

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Over 4,000 foreigners in territory to benefit from law

By Joyetter Feagaimaalii-Luamanu

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Sept. 11, 2014) – The Senate version of the Amnesty Bill will now go to the governor to be signed into law after the House of Representatives unanimously passed the bill yesterday in regular session.

This bill establishes the opportunity to grant immigration amnesty to foreigners who are physically present in American Samoa without current lawful immigration status, as well as to those who are lawfully in the territory but subject to specific numerical limitations on their registration by country.

The bill allows more than 2,400 foreign nationals who registered during the recent amnesty campaign to reside legally in the territory and also includes just over 1,000 people lawfully present and already in the Immigration Board queue awaiting their quota to become available. The total number of foreigners to be allowed under the proposed amendment to current law stands at 4,111.

According to the approved measure the territory has a large number of undocumented foreigners currently residing here, and a large backlog of foreigners who have applied to legally reside in American Samoa.

However, due to the American Samoa Code Annotated, the numerical limitation of the law has reached its limit. Furthermore the growing numbers of foreigners have an impact on the local economy, infrastructure, natural resources and government services, putting pressure on the ability of American Samoans and other legal residents to enjoy and fully access these resources.

"If this problem is not corrected it will continue to grow becoming in the future ever more difficult to rectify" says the bill. "As part of the a comprehensive overall plan for the immigration reform in the territory it is in the best interest of the territory to provide deceiving undocumented aliens with the onetime opportunity to become lawful and productive members of society." The proposed bill seeks to amend the quota for foreign nationals in order to make them legal residents.

THE NUMBERS

By country, the amnesty bill states that there are 2,845 from Samoa; 457 from Tonga; Philippines have 446; Tuvalu 9; Fiji 101; China 19; New Zealand 19; Korea 12; Taiwan 6; Australia 8; Chile 6; Costa Rica 6; Germany 8; Indonesia 9, Micronesia 6; Panama 7; Papua New Guinea 6; Peru 6; Portuguese 7; Romania 7; Singapore 6; Solomon Islands 8; Great Britain and Northern Ireland 6; Uruguay 6; Vanuatu 9 and 17 from Vietnam.

During the hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale said the immigration amnesty bill is the first step by the Lolo Administration towards immigration reform, as the governor’s office will in the future submit appropriate legislation to fix any current immigration law "loopholes" which allow more foreigners to stay in the territory than necessary under the annual immigration quota.

Talauega also says that the Immigration Office — as a newly implemented policy — no longer accepts deposits toward bonds for foreigners awaiting their paperwork to go through the Immigration board when the quota for the year is already closed.

He said some of these individuals referred to in the bill are getting government services, but are not paying taxes. Additionally, there are others who are paying taxes — especially those who are already on the Immigration Board queue — but their status is not legal.

Talauega says he is sure that there are also foreigners who didn’t come forth to register during the amnesty registration campaign and that the proposed quota increase is only for fiscal year 2015 which begins Oct. 1, 2014. He also made clear that not all people who registered in the amnesty campaign and put their names on the list will be accepted.

For example, individuals with criminal backgrounds are not accepted, he said, adding that American Samoa doesn’t need these types of individuals. All those who registered will go thru the Immigration Board for the required board hearing and each individual must have the required sponsor, he said.

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