Governor urges Fono to support proposal for Amnesty Program
Among the proposed legislation Gov. Lolo M. Moliga plans to send to the Fono for review and approval is the government’s Amnesty Program, which is an initiative the governor first revealed in his address to the Fono in January 2013.
Since the program was mentioned last year, the administration has been working on the proposal, with funding provided in last year’s supplemental appropriation for this work, which includes developing procedures to implement the program.
Speaking to the joint Fono session on Monday, the governor said the Attorney General’s Office has developed policies and procedures to govern and monitor the implementation of the “Amnesty Program” providing a window of opportunity for all undocumented immigrants living illegally in American Samoa to get their immigration papers in order.
Lolo says he will be asking the Fono to amend provisions of immigration laws to allow for a “one-time increase in the quota number of undocumented immigrants that can be registered, after we have conducted our registration campaign, which will begin shortly.”
According to the governor, the Amnesty Program is being implemented most importantly to document a more accurate determination of the local population, which dropped by 3.4% based on the 2010 census count.
(As previously reported by Samoa News, the U.S Census Bureau announced in August 2011 that the territory’s 2010 population count stood at 55,519— a decline of 3.1% —amounting to 1,772 people— between 2000 and 2010.)
“This decline will cause to reduce Federal funds to which the Territory is entitled. Strong suspicion exists that our population was undercounted because undocumented immigrants did not register for fear of deportation,” he said. (These were the same concerns voiced by lawmakers during three separate House hearings in the later part of 2011 and the following year).
Lolo said the chance offered by the Amnesty Program to those who are considered undocumented immigrants will hopefully compel them to register with the Immigration Office.
The governor also pointed out that there exists the risk that undocumented immigrants may still not come forth to register for fear that the Legislature may not approve the recommended quota increases.
“I believe the potential loss of Federal funds attributed to population decline poses a greater risk to the territory than the risk of legalizing the status of those persons who are already here in any event,” he said and urged support from the Fono “to preserve our federal funding levels by providing the federal government the accurate count of our population.”
In the fiscal year 2014 budget, $100,000 was allocated to Amnesty Program Development.