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Senate committee hears testimony on question of voting rights for long-term residents

Mamea Talamesi Ta’ala

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The first three witnesses that appeared before the Senate Joint Resolution Committee chaired by Senator Togiola Tulafono, didn’t support the call for a Constitutional amendment on the qualifications for some long-term residents to become electors.

The proposed amendment would allow non-citizens who reside in American Samoa for over 20 years or are married to a US National and a taxpayer, the eligibility to vote.   

Togiola reminded witnesses to understand, this is a joint resolution for the two houses.

Procedurally if the two houses approve it, then it goes to the Governor for him to present it in the next election, for electors of Tutuila and Manu’a to decide. 

And if electors approve it then it goes to the Secretary of Interior to be presented to the US Congress before the amendment is ratified to the constitution.

Togiola also explained that if the amendment becomes approved through this process, then there will be changes to who votes for local leadership, like the Governor, Lt governor, Faipule, however with the exclusion of the Congressional Representative to Washington. That is a federal position, he said.

Pulu Ae Ae Jr of Pago Pago was the first to testify. He said the reason he showed up to the public hearing is because he cares about the future of Tutuila and Manu’a. He suggested this should be a decision of today’s leaders (not the people).

As for himself, he’d served the US Government for more than 20 years, and he wasn’t allowed to vote (in US elections) because he’s a US National. He couldn’t even vote while in the military due to his status as a US National.

However, Pulu said he decided to keep his US National citizenship. He has one son that was born overseas, who is eligible to vote, while the rest of his family were born in American Samoa, and have decided to remain US Nationals. And if today’s leaders are looking at giving the opportunity to our people from overseas that have resided here, to vote, Pulu said, there is one way to do that — go to America to become a citizen. 

Pulu reminded the hearing there is an existing law, we the people here follow, to avoid any legal actions that may follow these changes.

Furthermore he said, there are a lot of children of American Samoa overseas, if they want to vote, they can become US citizens there, then they have the freedom to vote.

 Pulu reiterated that the decision over this resolution should come from the leaders of today.

The second witness to testify was Ruby Reed, who said she doesn’t trust American Samoa with where its immigration stands now. “E leo talitouina e lou tagata Amerika Samoa i tulaga o iai le immigration.”

 She is not taking the future of the American Samoa’s children lightly. “We have lands and owned lands, while people from overseas are moving in, and are utilizing the lands. They are paying taxes, following the opportunities given to live on our lands and earn in American Samoa.”

Reed doesn't support the joint resolution.

 Mamea Talamesi Ta’ala or Mr T, said most people called him Mr T. 

He is from Saasaai Faasaleleaga, Savaii. He is not new here and was comfortably speaking of his experience living in American Samoa.

He’s been married to a lady from Manu’a for about 40 years, His wife is from Ofu and Olosega. That relationship made him a resident and he was able to sponsor people from overseas. 

He was proud of it, and left to the United States but unfortunately that eligibility of sponsoring people was only good for American Samoa.

 Mr T said that he worked hard for them from Upolu and Savaii during campaigns, and their children who were born here are eligible voters. 

However he couldn’t work in the mainland even with his Social Security card, unless his Manu’a partner was a citizen.  Later he earned his citizenship through her.  

“I now hold a US citizenship, why? Because Pulu is right.” 

Mr T went to America to earn his citizenship, and so did his children who were all born in American Samoa. 

He is grateful for his Manu’a lady who encouraged him to get his citizenship. 

On April 17, 2009, he held up his citizenship card to acknowledge American Samoa, which remains in his heart, where he had worked so hard and supported.

He said in order to vote in American Samoa, others should follow the same way he did. 

Study the 100 questions, if you want to have a voice and serve the Territory.

 Mr T doesn’t support the resolution as well.

More comments in upcoming issues.