Senate hears testimony on human trafficking bill
Deputy Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Mitzie Jessop yesterday told senators that a majority of victims in human trafficking cases involve female citizens of neighboring Samoa sponsored by U.S. nationals in the territory, and the sponsors are also the perpetrators.
Jessop, along with Attorney General Afoa Moega Lutu, Deputy Attorney General for Civil Division Eleasalo Ale and local Department of Homeland Security director Utuali’i Iuasolua Savusa were called on by the Senate Judicial Committee to testify on an administration bill criminalizing human trafficking and involuntary servitude.
During the hearing, Sen. Galeai Tu’ufuli said he believes the penalty for those who fail to report human trafficking should be higher than a misdemeanor, as cited in the proposed bill.
He believes that there are many local residents who have been fully aware of such criminal behavior happening in their neighborhoods or families — for a long time — but who fail in their duty to report it to local authorities.
By increasing the penalty level, that would send a clear message to the community of the punishment they would get under the law for failing to do the right thing, he said and sought more information about reports that these human trafficking cases involved females from neighboring Samoa.
Jessop confirmed that in these types of cases, “the majority... involve young women from Samoa” and noted that there haven’t been any cases involving males that have been brought to their attention.
“And we are hopeful that if this bill does pass... we are going to enter into talks with Samoa to help them be able to protect their citizens as well as us being able to protect our citizens on this end,” she said, adding that the Senate is also aware that the government is looking at modifying local immigration laws.
And this is to “strengthen [them] so that we can monitor this type of activity a little bit closer,” she said.
According to the deputy AG, “we do have training that is going to be put in place not only for our people here but we’re hopeful to work with Samoa, so that they can also be aware of what is happening, so they can protect their women, as well.”
The bill states in part that in coordination with ASDHS, the Department of Public Safety shall receive mandatory and on-going training on human trafficking for all law enforcement and first responders in the territory.
When Galeai asked — who are the sponsors of these females from Samoa? — Jessop answered the sponsors “are the perpetrators” who “bring these women in specifically for this purpose” of human trafficking.
“So we are trying our best to have this law on the criminal end so that we can do our work, but we’re also working with immigration to strengthen our immigration laws, so that we can take administrative action as well,” she said.
When asked by Sen. Mauga T. Asuega for further clarification on the perpetrators and their nationality, Jessop said, “unfortunately for us, a lot of these perpetrators are U.S. nationals from the territory and they are allowed under our law to sponsor people to come in, to help them with domestic chores, but they end up doing something else.”
Asked as to which ASG entity helps investigate these type of cases, Jessop says she relies heavily on the Department of Public Safety, however, she also relies on ASDHS because “a lot of victims are coming from Samoa” and this falls under ASDHS jurisdiction.
Utuali’i said if this bill is passed they would work closely with the AG’s Office to investigate these cases and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Afoa pointed out that currently there is no human trafficking law in American Samoa and the AG’s Office needs this bill to be enacted to assist with their work on these types of cases. He also says the bill outlines specific details of the penalties for those charged with human trafficking, including trafficking of minors.
The committee was satisfied with the explanation and reported the bill to the full Senate yesterday morning. It was approved in second reading, and the bill is expected to get final endorsement by the Senate in third reading today.
Samoa News will also report later in the week on the issue of the Samoan culture versus human trafficking which was raised during the hearing by Senator Nua Saoluaga Nua. The discussion was in the Samoan language and Samoa News wishes to be certain of its translation into English as several points were made that need additional clarification.
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