Lolo replaces three senior Immigration officials to improve office's integrity
Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has moved to “improve the integrity” of the Immigration Office by replacing the top three senior immigration officials, including the chief immigration officer, which has now been assigned to Dennis Fuimaono Lutu.
“We've got problems at Immigration office and we’re trying to clean it up,” said the governor’s executive assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira when asked why Lolo issued last week to Attorney General-appointee Afoa M.S. Lutu a memo which replaced chief immigration officer Ufuti Fa’afetai Ieremia.
The Jan.16 memo does not identify Ufuti by name or the other two senior officials, but Iulogologo confirmed their names on Friday. Also being replaced are deputy chief immigration officer Kolumane Fuimaono and senior officer Kalama Sekio.
Asked what will happen to these three employees, Iulogologo said they will remain with the Immigration Office for now until Afoa makes a final decision.
Replacing Kolumane and Sekio are Limutau C. Limutau (a former House member) and Fuala’au Unutoa.
Reached Friday morning for reaction to news about the changes, Ufuti said around 9:30 a.m. he had heard reports about the changes but had not received or seen the actual memo. He also said that he has told this staff to continue to do their work “honestly, in serving the public with a smile.”
Later in the day, when contacted again, Ufuti — who has held the post for some 10 years — said he had seen the governor’s memo and he expects a decision from the Attorney General’s Office to come out this week regarding his status with the immigration office.
Reached by phone Friday afternoon, Kolumane said he has not received a memo about being replaced and he along with Sekio are still working at the Immigration Office. He added that Sekio was at the dock clearing a vessel.
The Jan.16 memo by the governor shows the move to replace the top three immigration officials followed his meeting with Afoa that morning where Lolo disclosed his wish to “take immediate action” to remove existing immigration officials “to afford the opportunity to implement required mitigation strategies.”
He said he is “highly confident” that the new chief immigration officer “possesses the leadership and management skills to improve the integrity of this important agency” of ASG and the assistance of the other two newly appointed individuals, “will improve the capacity of the office to implement needed mitigation actions.”
Lolo acknowledged statutory authority which grants the attorney general specific powers by the governor to appoint the chief immigration officer.
“...nevertheless this issue is a politically sensitive issue which necessitated the appointment of individuals I trust will do a good job resolving the public complaints questioning the integrity of this [immigration] office,” he wrote.
“I look forward to seeing the prompt resolution of our current challenges and it is my hope that new policies will be established to preempt fraudulent behavior from being repeated in the future,” he said. “As I have impressed upon you, the commitment of this administration is to transparency and total accountability.”
Lolo also says that he is in the process of reconstituting the Immigration Board and “will appoint business and community leaders whose personal characters and integrity are beyond reproach.” He said a memo will be issued soon appointing a new board.
Under local law, the Immigration Board, consists of five at-large members, who are U.S nationals of American Samoan ancestry. They are appointed by the Governor with the consent and approval of the Legislature. They are to serve 5- year terms, but for no more than two consecutive terms.
Members are to serve on the Board until a successor is approved; and shall elect their own chairperson annually.
Lolo revealed in his State of the Territory Address last Monday that he has instructed the Attorney General to redefine all immigration policies, not only to streamline the process, but also to stop immediately all illegal practices which are severely diluting the composition of our population with the majority composed of undocumented immigrants.
He also said the Immigration Board would be reconstituted with instructions to the new board to develop polices to govern its activities and to ensure strict adherence to existing immigration laws.
In January 2010, The Immigration Office was the subject of raids at its main immigration office located in the EOB building and its office at Pago Pago International Airport. They reportedly carted off large plastic bins and a cabinet filled with immigration documents.
The raids were conducted by about 20 local law enforcement agents, including one FBI agent, and were seeking evidence of human trafficking in a case that could involve victims from China, the Philippines and South Korea, authorities said.
The Immigration Office is suspected of helping to illegally bring Asians into the South Pacific territory through neighboring Samoa, Lieutenant John Cendrowski of the Office of Territorial and International Criminal Intelligence and Drug Enforcement said in a search warrant that was executed on Thursday.
To date, no charges have been filed in this case.
In December 2012, a local immigration officer was arrested in connection with an immigration ID scam, involving two Chinese nationals and a Samoan woman.
The two Chinese women told police they were not aware that their immigration IDs were fake. The pair, who have not been not charged, are expected to be witnesses for the government if the case proceeds to a trial.