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Court cautions sponsors in marijuana case to fulfill responsibilities to ‘aliens’

Just say no to marijuana graphic

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The court emphasized during the sentencing of two men from Samoa convicted of drug charges, that sponsors need to understand and fulfill their responsibilities under immigration laws. The court said failure on the sponsor’s part to not renew an alien’s immigration ID is a failure not only of the Immigration Office but also to the American Samoa Government (ASG).

Fetu Kapelu and Dan Faga appeared in High Court last week for sentencing.

Kapelu and Faga were each charged with one count of unlawful possession of marijuana, a felony punishable by 5-10 years in jail, a fine of $5,000-$20,000, or both. However, under a plea agreement with the government last month, the defendants each pled guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful possession of marijuana, a class D felony, punishable by up to five years in jail, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.

Kapelu and Faga admit that on Aug. 27th, they each had on them, a marijuana cigarette when cops came by to arrest them for disturbing the peace in front of a Malaeimi store. The pair appeared in court last month for sentencing; but due to their illegal immigration status, the hearing was continued and the sponsors were ordered to be present, along with a representative from Immigration.

Both defendants apologized to the court and begged for a second chance to return home to care for their families, especially their wives and children. Faga said sleeping in prison for over 14 months while awaiting the outcome of his case is not a good thing to think about, especially when he knows his wife and kids are sleeping by themselves.

“Everyday… I always think of my family, especially my children. I want to know what they are eating for breakfast and dinner. I want to know whether they have food on the table. It’s sad that I’m in prison and therefore unable to fulfill my responsibility as a father because of the bad decision I made,” Faga told the court.

Kapelu said the same thing, and asked for a second chance so he can find a job to care for his family and provide for his children.

Despite their illegal immigration status, attorneys from both sides asked the court to sentence the pair to a term of probation, to allow them to seek employment and provide for their families. The prosecutor asked for both men to be released to Immigration so they can work on renewing their immigration papers.

Last week, only Faga’s sponsor appeared in court. Kapelu’s sponsor is off island. The court said the reason the case was continued for three weeks, was the court wanted more information on the defendants’ immigration status. He said the government’s proposal to release both men to Immigration does not sit well with the court.

“Each defendant wants to stay in American Samoa. The government also recommends probation with the condition that both defendants be released to Immigration; but according to Immigration laws, these two defendants need to go back to where they came from, because of their illegal immigration status,” the court said.

Prosecutor said she spoke to a senior immigration officer who told her they are working with both sponsors to address the illegal immigration status of both men.

Faga’s sponsor, admitted to the court that she failed to fulfill her responsibility as a sponsor under immigration laws, by not renewing Faga’s ID for two years.

For Faga’s case, the court accepted his sponsor’s apology. But for Kapelu, the court is unable to hear from his sponsor because she moved to Hawaii and abandoned Kapelu in American Samoa illegally.

The court told both men that the easy part for their case is that the court can easily determine what types of sentence they should get, based on the crime they committed; the hard part is, how to deal with their illegal immigration status.

The court said each man has asked the court to allow them to continue to stay in American Samoa; however, that decision is not theirs. It’s up to Immigration and the Immigration Board whether they are eligible to reside here or not.

“If the Immigration Office and Board decide that you should leave, then, you should leave the territory; but if they decide that you should stay… that’s their decision,” the court said.

The court said the problem is the lack of communication between the defendants and their sponsors. Not only did their sponsors fail to fulfill their responsibility under immigration laws, but both men failed to do the right thing in order for them to stay in the territory legally.

Faga and Kapelu were each sentenced to 5 years in jail; however, execution of sentence was suspended and each man was placed on probation for 5 years under the condition that they serve 14 months at the TCF. They are credited with 14 months time served.

Both defendants have been released from TCF into the custody of Immigration.