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AG questioned about Filipino woman’s immigration controversy

[SN file photo]
Talauega: Why this one woman, out of 4,000 amnesty apps, is the only one rejected?

The controversy surrounding immigration status of Filipino National, Merlie Gumanab, who appealed the Immigration Board’s decision denying her application submitted under the Amnesty Program, was raised during Talauega Eleasalo Ale’s confirmation hearing for Attorney General in both the House and Senate.

Talauega, who was officially confirmed by the Fono to the post on Wednesday, was firm in his response to lawmakers that he overturned the Immigration Board’s decision on the Filipino woman’s application based on a court decision, ordering the Immigration Board to grant her request. Additionally, there were others who were accepted into the Amnesty Program, but didn’t qualify. He didn’t elaborate further.

Throughout his confirmation hearing, in both chambers, Talauega reiterated when questions came up about the issue that the only applicant rejected by the Board was this Filipino woman and the question arises — “Why? Why just this one application out of the 4,000?”

During the House confirmation hearing Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Lavea Fatulegae’e Mauga was adamant in his argumentative questions over Talauega’s authority to overrule the Immigration Board’s decision. Lavea went as far as accusing Talauega of siding with the woman, saying the government is not getting anything out of it.

In a ruling issued Sept. 29, 2015, following a four-day hearing, then Administrative Law Judge Toetagata Albert Mailo reversed the decision by the Immigration Board that denied Gumanab’s application for amnesty. The ALJ decision set the following day as the deadline for the government to grant Gumanab amnesty.

However, the board continued to refuse and Talauega opted not to appeal the ALJ’s decision. It wasn’t until Dec. 17 that Talauega personally escorted Gumanab and her new sponsor, Ipu Lefiti to the Immigration Office where Gumanab’s immigration ID was finally issued. 

The print and radio media covered this case extensively with specific details on the ALJ’s decision and Gumanab’s plight to finally receive her immigration ID. (See Samoa News edition Dec. 18, 2015 on the last story on this case.)

During the House hearing, Lavea asked Talauega about his working relationship with the Immigration Board and Chief Immigration Officer, Peseta D. Fuimaono, to which Talauega replied that no one is 100% right all the time, adding that he doesn’t know if there is any conflict or problems — but work continues for the Immigration Office.

Lavea then focused his next line of questions on Gumanab, who was not identified by name, but was referred to as ‘the Filipino woman’. Lavea said the Board denied the woman’s application, but Talauega wanted the Immigration Office to issue her an immigration ID.

The faipule questioned why Talauega wanted the ID issued to this woman when the Board denied it and ASG won’t get any money out of this matter. He asked if there was anyone pushing him to have the ID issued.

In his reply, Talauega first pointed out that the AG’s job is not only to enforce immigration laws but also protect the community and the government.

He explained that under the governor’s Amnesty Program, some 4,000 applicants had their requests granted and out of that total number, the only applicant rejected by the Board was this Filipino woman and the question comes up — “Why? Why just one application out of the 4,000?”

Talauega said he reviewed the woman’s file thoroughly, adding that this matter landed in court — referring to the ALJ — which already issued an order rejecting the Board’s decision.  Additionally, everyone accepts a court decision and the court’s decision was an order with which the government must comply.

Talauega says it’s been three years since the end of the Amnesty program and there is still talk about it, just because of this woman, one woman. He believes there are other important matters to discuss instead of this case, which is not a burden to him.

He reiterated to the committee that he made the decision to process the woman’s papers, because of a court order to accept the woman’s amnesty application and he complied with the court’s decision because “I wanted to protect our government.”

However, House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale pointed out that local law, gives the Immigration Board the authority to approve or disapprove an applicant’s request and the Board rejected the woman’s application.

Talauega echoed that the court did not accept the Board’s decision, and that means the court ordered the board to accept the application. “I can’t accept a decision by the Board, because the court has ordered (ASG) to accept the woman’s application,” he said, adding that the Board’s decision was appealed to the ALJ by the woman and he testified during the hearing.

Lavea said he is saddened that the AG didn’t side with the Board’s decision, and that the Board had denied the application because the woman had no valid papers to work here. He then accused Talauega of testifying against the government during the court proceeding.

Talauega explained that he testified for the government asking the court to accept the decision by the government — through the board. He reiterated that the court rejected the Board’s decision; however, the Board didn’t accept the court ruling.

Talauega then went on to note that the Board cannot reject a decision by the court and that’s a matter of law. He said he was the one who was directed by the Board to accept the court’s decision as the court has the higher authority. He said his decision wasn’t made lightly.

Additionally, the decision he made was not to make another person look bad, it was made to protect the government from being held liable if a lawsuit is filed as well as the governor’s Amnesty Program, and he echoed, again — it accepted 4,000 applicants but “why not this one person, this woman?”

In the Senate, this same case came up when Sen. Fa’amausili Mau Mau Jr., asked about the Attorney General’s authority over decisions made by the Board, to which Talauega said that there are times when the Attorney General does overrule Board decisions. For example, if the Board orders a person deported and the court overturns that decision that’s when the AG steps in, to ensure the court’s decision, is carried out.

Fa’amausili noted the case of the Filipino woman, who worked here without proper immigration papers and no ID. Therefore, the Board rejected her immigration application.

Talauega replied that he can appear before the Senate at a later time to provide details, but noted that the AG’s job is to uphold the “rule of law” and if the court rules that the Board is wrong, the AG must uphold the rule of the law as ordered by the court.

However, Fa’amausili pushed the issue, saying said this woman was working without proper immigration papers. He claimed that this is just one example of cases, in which the AG allegedly overturned the Board’s decision.

At the end of the 90-minute hearing during his parting remarks, Talauega informed senators that the decisions he makes as the AG are done out of “alofa” (love) and to protect the government and the governor, but not to make anyone look bad, or give anyone a negative mark.

He said there are people who say that the decision he made in the Filipino woman’s case is probably why the federal government won’t investigate the Amnesty Program or question the program or even file a lawsuit, because out of the 4,000 applicants accepted into the Amnesty Program, and only this one woman was rejected by the Board.

Talauega maintained that the decision he made was the right one and it was done out of love to protect the government from being sued — it was not done out of malice against anyone.