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Faleomavaega draft bill to redefine U.S. Nat'l status

fili@samoanews.com

Congressman Faleomavaega Eni has requested suggestions and comments from Gov. Togiola Tulafono and the Fono on a proposed bill that would amend the federal Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) to allow foreigners who have been long time legal residents of American Samoa to apply for U.S. National status.

“The proposed legislation will redefine U.S. National to include certain residents of American Samoa,” wrote Faleomavaega in a recent letter to the governor and the Fono leadership, with copies sent to all lawmakers, the lieutenant governor and the local attorney general. “The goal is to provide U.S. National status to not only the residents of American Samoa for 20 or more years but also to students and persons who are married to U.S. nationals.”

Current law allows only those born in American Samoa or who have a parent born in American Samoa, eligible to become U.S. Nationals, he said.

“This does not do justice to some 4,000 long time residents that have been living continuously in American Samoa for 20 years or more, paid taxes to the American Samoa Government, donated to their churches and contributed to American Samoa society in many ways,” he wrote. “Yet, despite their contributions, they remain without the benefit of U.S. National status.”

“The bill I am considering is the legislative fix,” he said, adding that the measure will grant U.S. National status in three categories for long time residents in American Samoa:

• any person who has continuously lived in American Samoa since the age of 5 years or under and has graduated from high school;

• Any person who has been legally married to a U.S. national, and has continuously resided in American Samoa for at least 10 years; and

• any person who has been physically and legally present in American Samoa for a continuous period for at least 20 years.

Other key provisions of the legislation:

• Five year cutoff period: There is a five year cutoff date, which will allow only people who resided in American Samoa five years prior to the enactment of the bill to qualify for U.S. National status.

For example, said Faleomavaega, if the bill is signed into law in 2011 only those who were residing in American Samoa prior to 2006 will qualify to become U.S. Nationals. “The purpose is to avoid an influx to American Samoa of people seeking to take advantage of the proposed bill,” he said.

• Good moral character: The good moral character requirement is to ensure that the person applying to become a U.S. National has not committed any serious crimes during their continuous residency in American Samoa, according the draft legislation, adding that this requirement prevents persons convicted of felonies and other serious crimes from being eligible to apply for U.S. National status.

• Lawfully admitted and continuous residency requirement: The policy is to provide U.S. National status only to those who have remained in American Samoa without interruption. Exceptions are provided in cases when the person must leave American Samoa because of health treatment or other health related issues.

In addition, an exception is provided in the case when a person must leave American Samoa to attend school or for official travel to attend forums and seminars.

• Construction provision: This provision is to ensure that nothing in the proposed bill will alter the authority of the American Samoa Government to control its own immigration laws and procedures.

• Earned a high school diploma: This requirement will ensure that the students will have a knowledge and appreciation of civics before applying to become a U.S. National.

“I look forward to working together on this legislation,” said Faleomavaega in his letter to the local leaders, who were also sent a draft copy of the proposal.



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