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District Court judge asks how a person can renew his ID that expired 6 months ago

District Court Judge, Fiti Sunia

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — “How can an immigrant who’s immigration ID expired 6 years ago get an opportunity to renew his immigration status. Where is the law?”

These were some of the many questions raised by District Court Judge Fiti Sunia yesterday morning, during the hearing of a man who was convicted of yelling profanities at another man and threatening to kill him.

Denny Avaia, also known as Taliaulu Avaia appeared in court yesterday morning for his pretrial conference. However, when his case was called, his attorney, Assistant Public Defender (APD) Anna Wells, along with the attorney for the government, Assistant Attorney General  (AAG) Jason Mitchell, who informed the court that they have reached a plea agreement in Avaia’s case — where he has agreed to plead guilty to disturbing the public peace, a class B misdemeanor, while the charge of third degree assault, a class A misdemeanor will be dismissed.

Avaia has remained in custody without bail, due to his illegal immigration status.

The government claims that on Oct. 16, 2018 in American Samoa, Avaia disturbed the peace on private land by yelling profanities at another person, and threatening to kill him, after the victim instructed him (defendant) to pick up the plastic cup he had dropped on the ground and put it inside the trash bin.

The government also alleged that Avaia assaulted the victim by punching him in the face, which caused the government to charge the defendant with third degree assault that was then dismissed pursuant to the agreement by both parties.

The government recommended to the court to sentence the defendant to 6 months probation without any additional period of detention.

The APD echoed the government’s attorney statement and asked the court to follow the joint recommendation by both parties.

“Why should we follow the recommendation?” Sunia asked Wells.

APD Wells responded that that despite her client’s illegal immigration status, he is a first offender and he’s not a danger to the community.

“The court agrees that the defendant is a first offender, but, government, how would you address the issue of the defendant’s illegal immigration status if a serious incident had occurred?” Sunia asked the prosecutor.

AAG Mitchell paused for almost a minute, and then told the court that he will make sure the sponsor is notified regarding the Avaia’s case.

Sunia then turned to the immigration officer who was sitting behind the defendant and asked for some additional information about the defendant.

According to the immigration officer, the defendant’s real name on his passport and expired ID is Taliaulu Avaia. He said he doesn’t know where Denny Avaia’s name comes from; and that Avaia’s sponsor is To’alua Ale, and his immigration ID expired in 2012.

He said that a new petition to renew the defendant’s immigration ID is now before the Board, but the petition must go through the process.

After hearing the immigration officer’s report, Sunia asked, “How’s that happen? How can a person file a petition to renew his immigration status that expired 6 years ago? How does that thing happen? Where is the law your office is suppose to enforce?”

Sunia turned to the defendant and asked questions regarding his immigration status, and why it has taken 6 years to renew his immigration ID.

According to the defendant, he first entered American Samoa back in 2000 and attended school in one of the Elementary schools on the west side of the island. His immigration status at that time was legal.

In 2009, he returned to Samoa, and after one year, he then re-entered American Samoa in 2010 and was able to renew his immigration status. In 2012, his immigration ID expired and was never renewed for 6 six years.

Sunia stated to the AAG that there is a law that terminates the immigration status of any immigrant who exits American Samoa and remains outside of the territory for 3 consecutive months and more.

“This case, the defendant was away for over a month, and yet, he came back and was able to renew his immigration status. Now, it’s 6 years since his immigration status expired, and according to Immigration, he can still renew his immigration status. How does this happen?” Sunia said.

Sunia sentenced Avaia to 6 months probation subject to the following conditions that he pay a fine of $300 and serve a period of detention of 15 days at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF). He will be credited for time served, which is almost 4 weeks — the time he was detained to await the outcome of his matter.

Upon serving his period of detention, the court orders the defendant to depart the territory and remain outside of its border for the remaining period of his probation.

Aside from his fine, the court also ordered the defendant to pay his outstanding fine of $60 for the traffic citation of driving without a valid driver’s license.

Sunia also ordered that the defendant’s sponsor will be responsible for paying the defendant’s fine and for his fare to return back to Samoa.


An incident happened after the court delivered it decision on the defendant. While making her way outside of the court room, the defendant’s girlfriend opened the back door of the court room in a forcible manner —  and ran after she allegedly slammed the door.

The door hit the wall and created a loud sound (boom), which caused everyone who were inside the court room, including Judge Sunia, to turn their eyes to the back of the court.

Immediately after hearing the loud sound, Sunia called out, “Marshal”. One of the court marshals who was standing at the back door ran to the hallway and grabbed the defendant’s girl and brought her back to court.

Sunia ordered the female to come to the front, and be seated in the chair next to APD Wells.

“What is your connection to the defendant Avaia?” Sunia asked her. She replied that Avaia is her boyfriend.

“Was there a reason why you slammed the court’s door while making your way outside?” Sunia asked.

She replied, “I did not slam the door, I just pushed it.” She then apologized to the court for her action.

Sunia reminded the defendant’s girlfriend that there is a charge of contempt of court that can be laid against her due to her action. Sunia then accepted her apology.