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AG says immigration enforcement officers needed to enforce those laws

Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Va’alele Ale
Training would be through police academy

Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Va’alele Ale says a proposal has been worked on that would hire immigration enforcement officers who would be charged with the responsibility of enforcement of immigration laws pertaining to foreigners entering the territory.

Talauega made the revelation during his separate confirmation hearings in both the House and Senate last week, as lawmakers raised questions about the many foreigners in the territory.

Other lawmakers noted several over-stayers have only been identified when the person is taken into custody for committing a crime in the territory and ended up in court.

Talauega said his office is working on a proposal to be submitted to the governor to set up by law a certain number of immigration officers whose role is enforcement of immigration law. Currently, he said, there are about 38 employees at the Immigration Office, which has a lot of work to carry out, but there is not enough staff.

What’s needed the most at this point are employees to handle enforcement when it comes to foreigners who enter the territory on a permit, but end up staying for a year, instead of returning to his/ her country.

He estimated that the Immigration Office would need about 10 or up to 20 enforcement officers as well as a vehicle needed to carry out enforcement work by going out to villages where many over-stayers are hiding, and talking to people to find out where the foreigner is living.

And when the over-stayer is found, that person is taken into custody and then Immigration works on locating the sponsor to pay for the fare to return the over-stayer to his/ her country.

“The problem right now is the insufficient number of personnel to carry out this work,” he said, adding that the specific number of enforcement officers and the tools to carry out their work is best to be enacted by law, because if it’s included as part of the annual budget for one fiscal year, it will be taken out the next fiscal year.

Talauega asked lawmakers for their support if such measure is presented to the Fono in the future. He also noted that enforcement officers, would also be required to undergo proper training, such as going through the police academy which is slated for some time this year.

“The goal is to ensure that individuals who will be enforcing the law have gone through the proper training,” he said adding that Immigration is working on improving the immigration computer system, which tracks all people who enter and depart American Samoa.

According to the Attorney General, another issue pertaining to the influx of foreigners to the territory deals with American Samoans who are sponsors.

Talauega says he has discovered that there are American Samoans who sponsor about 20 people “and I don’t know how this could happen because it’s not supposed to happen” based on local laws, adding that this was happening before his tenure as AG.

He stressed to lawmakers that this immigration problem didn’t happen yesterday or a year ago, it goes back 30 years ago and it cannot be improved within one or two years.

The AG said improvement to immigration is a process that takes time and the process must be in place to implement improvements every year; and he believes the work done during the Lolo Administration when it comes to enforcing immigration laws has resulted in improvements.

Talauega agreed with lawmakers who said that immigration laws should be fully enforced to stop foreigners from coming here and taking over land that belongs to American Samoa’s future generation.

(Samoa News should point out that local land tenure law prohibits alienation of any real property, except freehold land, to any person whose blood is less that one-half Samoan; and about 90% of the territory’s land is communal, meaning it is owned by ‘clans’ or ‘aiga’. Leasing of communal land cannot be for more than 55 years, according to statute.)