Talauega confirmed by the Fono as new Attorney General
A former deputy attorney general for the Civil Division, Talauega Eleasalo Ale, is now American Samoa’s new Attorney General, after his nomination was officially endorsed by the Legislature, after two confirmation hearings — one held last Friday by the House and the second held yesterday by the Senate.
The endorsement followed last Friday’s unanimous 19-0 vote by the House and yesterday’s unanimous 14-0 vote by the Senate. Talauega, 45, takes over the post from former attorney general, Afoa L.S. Lutu, who is now one of the three senators for Ma’oputasi county.
Talauega, who earned his law degree from Drake University in 1994, joined the Attorney General’s Office in August 2012, and later became the deputy attorney general overseeing the Civil Division. As the new attorney general, Talauega also heads the Department of Legal Affairs, which includes the Immigration Office.
During the House hearing last Friday morning, Talauega said he believes the Immigration office should remain under the guidance of the Attorney General’s office because this was how our ancestors had it — and it should remain as it is.
He also pointed to American Samoa’s unique position of controlling its own ‘borders’ and as such has “many immigration issues” involving local laws, which necessitate it being kept under the AG’s Office.
The hearing was held before the House Legal Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. Florence Vaili Saulo. Questions on Immigration issues, separating the Immigration Office from under the AG’s office and electing the AG dominated the House hearing.
Rep Taotasi Archie Soliai asked the nominee about his view on having Immigration separated into its own department, instead of having it under the AG’s Office.
In response, Talauega stated, “It should remain under the AG’s office because, American Samoa is different from all the other territories and United States. We are the only territory who determines who can enter and exit our island and I believe that is because there are too many immigration issues involving our laws that this office should remain under the AG’s office.”
Taotasi told the nominee he should look into the GAO report, issued in 2010, where they conducted a risk assessment several years ago. “There are recommendations and deficiencies in this report, which are somewhat serious and should be looked into,” he said. The faipule noted the feds are also looking at the same report and with this assessment and what’s been happening recently — the problems are getting worse, especially with foreign nationals entering the territory.
Vice Speaker I’aulualo Talia Fa’afetai asked Talauega about his views on the AG’s position becoming an elected position. Talauega noted it is an issue that should be debated among lawmakers prior to considering if it’s the right move.
Rep Vailoata Amituana’i told Talauega to be mindful of the fact there are numerous immigration issues and there are countless Asians in the territory working on plantations, yet it’s unclear if they have valid immigration status. He urged Talauega to look into this serious matter and not take it lightly.
He said these foreign nationals are using American Samoa as a gateway to the U.S.A. and we have to protect our borders, every way we can.
Rep. Puleleiite Tufele Li’amatua Jr asked Talauega to share with the committee his mission for the betterment of the AG’s office. The nominee responded that his mission is to enforce current laws and there is a long list of needs for the AG’s office, which will be addressed at a later time.
Rep, Puletu Dick Koko then urged Talauega to have his immigration officers do physical training, because they are too heavy; and when they are chasing [illegal] foreign nationals they can barely catch them because they are too heavy. (Koko did not explain if he was a witness to this type of chase.)
Rep. Larry Sanitoa pointed out to Talauega that last year the Administration submitted a supplemental budget which included a partial payment to the Laufou court judgement, however to date it has yet to be paid. Talauega told the lawmakers he cannot discuss this case, but the matter is pending and a hearing for the appeal is slated for April.
Rep Toeaina Faufano Autele noted that there have not been any immigration officers visiting the Manu’a Islands, and said he’s certain there are foreign nationals in Manu’a at the moment.
Saulo urged Talauega to be keen on foreign nationals who have entered the territory and have taken over our businesses and noted they hire directly from their home country, “leaving our people to seek employment elsewhere.”
Prior to yesterday’s vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Sen. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono held a confirmation hearing earlier in the day, where Talauega told senators in his opening remarks that he has returned home to serve the government and people of the territory.
While he is young in age, he said, with God’s guidance and the support of everyone, he will be able to continue his public service. The nominee said this is a very important appointment because this job — attorney general — is not only for the government but for the whole of American Samoa.
Sen. Laolagi F.S. Vaeao told his colleagues that Talauega’s resume is “very impressive” and the most “impressive” to him, as a senator, is the fact the nominee had served under the tenure of former attorneys general Fepule’ai Arthur Ripley and Afoa L.S. Lutu, gaining the knowledge, experience and wisdom to be the next attorney general.
Afoa shared with his colleagues that Talauega is a person who is humble and a great individual, and he learned this during the twelve months they worked together in the AG’s Office.
All senators who spoke during the hearing praised Talauega’s education and work background and commended him for choosing to return home to work in government. The governor was also thanked for selecting Talauega as the next attorney general.
Samoa News reporter Fili Sagapolutele contributed to this report
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