Senate rejects bill to increase Immigration Board members
The administration bill seeking to increase members of the ASG Immigration Board from five to nine was rejected by the Senate during its Thursday session after being described as confusing, unnecessary and lacking support from the Attorney General’s Office.
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono reported to his fellow senators that during his committee's Thursday morning hearing on the bill it was revealed that the Attorney General’s Office had not been consulted for an opinion or comments prior to the bill’s submission to the Fono and described the board as the group that causes “messy” situations for the Immigration Office and of immigration matters even suggesting perhaps the board should be dissolved.
Deputy Attorney General for Civil Division Salo Ale testified before the committee, apologizing for his boss's absence due to other pressing government matters but stressed that immigration issues are of the utmost importance to Attorney General Afoa Lutu.
The bill’s preamble states in part that the Immigration Board will benefit from increasing the membership from five to nine members, and broadening the qualifications for membership, through broader public participation in its affairs, would result in a more extensive range of skills and experienced resources being available to benefit the board.
The proposed amendment seeks to amend the current law, increasing the five board members who must be nationals of the United States of American Samoan ancestry to “at least five” out of nine members be nationals or citizens of the United States of American Samoan ancestry.
Deputy AG Ale testified he has concerns regarding the nationalities of the other four board members not being specified in the bill. He said that if the nationalities of these four individuals are not made clear in the bill, these individuals should also be of American Samoan ancestry.
Ale disagreed with adding members to the five member board because it was difficult enough to come up with the three-member quorum, required under the current law, for the board to conduct its business. He believes it would be even more difficult under the proposed law, which calls for a five member quorum.
Several of the senators present agreed with Ale.
Sen. Su’a V. Mautautia agreed that the nationalities of the other four proposed board members should be specified. “Are the other four members supposed to be Asians?” he asked rhetorically, saying there is no clear explanation and reiterated his main concern that any changes to this board, do not impact Samoan lands and culture.
Sen. Magalei Logovi’i agreed with Ale’s concerns regarding the nationalities of the other four board members and the difficultly getting a quorum for a seven and nine member board. He believes the current number of board members is sufficient.
Magalei, a former member of the ASG Employees Retirement Fund Board of Trustees, recalled the late Gov. Tauese Sunia saying several times — “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” — meaning if the current law is good as it stands, don’t change it.
Magalei said that currently immigration officers are prohibited under the law from sponsoring foreigners but not Immigration Board members. He asked Ale if it is a conflict of interest for a board member to be a sponsor.
Ale acknowledged that the current law prohibits Immigration officers from being a sponsor but said immigration officers’ spouses can sponsor one foreigner and while there is no law prohibiting immigration board members from sponsoring a foreigner maybe this is an issue that should be addressed through an appropriate law, which supersedes an administrative regulation or executive order.
He told the committee he believes there is a big conflict with board members sponsoring immigrants.
Sen. Leatualevao Sosene Asifoa told Ale there are many past incidents where members of the community waited for long times for an immigration board hearing only to be told later it was canceled due to a lack of quorum and this is not good service by the government.
Chairman Soliai pointed out, towards the end of the hearing, that one of the community's biggest concerns is that many foreigners are sponsored by board members which, in his opinion, is a clear conflict of interest.
Soliai recalled that there never used to be an immigration board [before Tauese Sunia's administration], dealing with foreigners to reside here and all matters were handled by the Attorney General’s office, pursuant to laws passed by the Fono. He suggested that Ale discuss with the Attorney General the possibility of dissolving this board and have the AG enforce all immigration laws that are passed by the Fono.
Soliai continued that many Filipino’s in his village of Nu’uuli, are sponsored by members of the board. He also claims that the Immigration Office and immigration laws have become “messy” due to the Immigration Board.
In his closing remarks, Ale reiterated this bill was never presented to the AG’s office for input; however, this is good in the sense that the AG’s Office should have an “independent analysis” conducted that would not involve politics, but focus only on the proposed law and on current laws. He is thankful for the Senate asking the AG’s Office to testify.
Ale acknowledged the senators' concerns over past problems with the Immigration Office, but asked them to give the new attorney general time — as well as other new attorneys, including himself, who has only been at the AG’s office for five to six months — to address these many concerns.
Although rejected by the Senate, the bill is still alive in the House where it’s scheduled to soon go through a committee hearing.
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