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Overstayer who was unruly after drinking session enroute to Samoa

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Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A 19-year-old overstayer from Samoa who was in the territory since May 2016 departed American Samoa this week on board the Lady Naomi, pursuant to an order from District Court Judge Fiti Sunia.

While here, the young man was convicted of underage consumption of alcohol - a misdemeanor.

Before his departure, Tavita Fuifaitala left behind a lot of unanswered questions for the court to deal with, particularly the issue regarding his immigration status.

Some of the questions include: who allowed him to be employed without an official approval from the Immigration Board; the name of his real sponsor; why it took so long for the immigration office to track him down and return him to Samoa immediately after his visitor permit expired; and who is going to feed his two young children who are still on island with his spouse.

“The court wants to understand how this illegal immigrant was able to find work when his entry permit expired 2 years ago. Who gave him permission to work and who is the employer who employed him illegally?” These were some of the questions Sunia asked when the defendant appeared in court for his final hearing Thursday morning, before he boarded the Lady Naomi.

According to a report from the Immigration Office, Tavita Fuifaitala entered American Samoa on Apr. 15, 2016 on a 30-day permit and never left, although his visitor permit expired May 15, 2016.

While residing in American Samoa illegally for over 2 years, court records show that Fuifaitala was working, and also married with two minor children. He was residing with his wife and kids in Pago Pago.

He got into trouble with the law last month when he was charged with underage consumption of alcohol, public peace disturbance, and resisting arrest - all misdemeanors. But under a plea agreement with the government, Fuifaitala pled guilty to underage consumption of alcohol and the remaining charges were dismissed.

As part of the plea agreement, both sides recommended to place the defendant on probation for 24 months, under the condition that he depart the territory and remain outside of its borders during his probation term.

According to the government’s case, eyewitnesses told police the defendant was engaged in a drinking session with other young men from the village before he was arrested that same night.

Neighbors were alarmed when the defendant became loud and started yelling profanities to his wife and friends. He was out of control when villagers tried to calm him down. Police were immediately contacted for assistance.

When questioned by authorities, Fuifaitala said he was upset with his wife for not spending the money he gave her wisely. He said the money was for his children’s food and other family stuff; but instead, he found out that his wife used the money to play Bingo.

At Fuifaitala's hearing on Thursday, a young woman and two young kids were in court and they even went outside and spoke to Fuifaitala in the presence of a TCF officer and a court marshal. It is not clear if they are the defendant’s family.

When given the chance to speak, Fuifaitala did not wish to apologize to the court. His defense attorney, Ryan Anderson spoke on his behalf and asked the court to allow his client to depart the territory that day.

When Sunia asked the defendant who is going to take care of his two minor children, the defendant just shrugged his shoulders without saying a word.

“You have to speak so the court can understand what you’re trying to say,” Sunia told the defendant.

“Where does your sponsor live?” Sunia asked the defendant who answered, "Pago Pago."

“When was the last time you saw your sponsor?” Sunia asked. Fuifaitala's response was, “I don’t know.”

When asked again by the court whether he was living with his sponsor or not, the defendant said he was staying with a person named Mala from Pago Pago.

“My sponsor lives on the other side of Pago Pago while I live with Mala on the other side of the village. Mala brought me here to work for him,” the defendant told the court.

Sunia shook his head while looking at the defendant who was sitting next to his defense attorney.

“Who's paying for your return ticket to Samoa?” Sunia asked. The defendant said he doesn't know.

Sunia sentenced Fuifaitala to 24 months probation, subject to certain conditions. He has to depart the territory immediately, the same day of his sentencing. He is not to attempt to enter the territory while on probation, and he is to pay a fine of $100.

“The reason why the court wants to know who your sponsor is, is because the court is going to order your sponsor to pay your fine. So, I’m leaving that up to your defense attorney and his staff, to find out who your sponsor is, and inform that person about the court's order,” Sunia concluded.