Case of fake ID cards brings changes to Immigration schedule

[photo: AF] Now: Immigration ID cards only processed once a week — issuance & photo
ausage@samoanews.com

The Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHLS) have launched a joint investigation into the issuance of fake ID cards used by Asians to travel. Because of this, changes have been made, like setting aside just one day out of the week - Wednesday - for the issuance of immigration ID cards, just to set controls while investigations are underway.

This is according to testimony by Attorney General, Talauega Eleasalo Ale, during a hearing on Tuesday before the House Legal Affairs/ Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Toeaina Faufano Autele.

The new changes at the Immigration office regarding the issuance of ID cards and entry permits have resulted in a lot of complaints from the public.

The AG told faipule the issue came to light when members of the New Zealand Police Force visited our shores 3 months ago, looking for information from the local Immigration Office, about a group of Chinese people who tried to use their American Samoa Immigration ID cards to enter their country, without obtaining a travel visa from the NZ Immigration Office.

Talauega revealed that a box containing over 100 Chinese passports was confiscated by DPS last month from the airport, and it is now under police custody.

Because of all this, Talauega said the governor has called for new policies to be set up, regarding the issuance of entry permits and Immigration ID cards.

According to the AG, it is unclear at this time how the fake Immigration ID cards were issued — whether they were issued from American Samoa or created elsewhere — but one of the things they have recognized is how fast the ID cards to foreigners are being issued.

He referred to the one-day-a-week policy and said, “This is part of the efforts to implement the governor’s directive to deal with illegal immigration. We’re working together with the Immigration Board, and they feel that restricting the taking of Immigration ID photos to one day will help control any discrepancies.”

Talauega said he hopes the issuance of fake ID cards was not something that was done by local Immigration officials; but if it turns out that the fake ID cards were issued from here, someone will be held responsible.

Rep. Fetui Fetu Jr. doesn’t think anyone else would do this, and believes our own people did it.

The Manu'a faipule told the AG that he has received a lot of complaints from members of the public about the continued conflict between his office and the Immigration Office, and added that if this is one of the reasons why there are so many problems with the Immigration Division, something has to be done to settle the differences between the two.

 Fetui referred to an incident where an Asian left the territory with an expired permit, saying he heard from sources that Asians travel to Apia and come back to the territory, instead of returning to their own country. He said this is a practice that has been ongoing for many years, and it must be stopped right away.

Ituau faipule, Rep. Manumaua W. Wilson asked Talauega to explain the new policy on issuing entry permits and requiring an 'Okay To Board' approval and a $20 entry fee for travelers from countries under the US visa waiver program. He wanted to know if the $20 entry fee would have an impact on the local tourism industry.

Talauega said the main purpose of the governor’s new policies is to combat illegal immigration.

For example, all visitors to the territory must secure a 30-day permit before entering and only the attorney general or his designee is authorized to approve such permits. He provided to the committee copies of the governor's Aug. 29th memo explaining all the requirements for those requesting entry permits to enter the territory.

The AG pointed out that the governor’s memo also requires that citizens of the 38 countries listed under the American Samoa Entry Permit Waiver Countries (EPWC) program seek approval before entering the territory and pay a $20 fee.

Manumanua wanted to know who is responsible for the fare of an over stayer, who is ordered to leave the territory, and wondered what is so difficult about sending an over stayer back to their country.

Talauega said the main reason why there are so many over stayers in the territory is because of the shortage of manpower at the Immigration Office. He said there are not enough employees to do the work, especially those who follow up with the sponsors to remind them about when a foreigner needs to return to their country.

The AG said his office has now implemented a new plan to ensure that everyone who enters the territory on a 30-day permit will return to their country.

He said they are now working together with DPS and DHLS, and every month, they will provide them with a list of everyone whose 30-day permits have expired, after which the police will go looking for them in the villages.

The AG added that an advertisement featuring a list of everyone whose entry permit has expired will also be printed in the newspaper, to make it easier for the public to identify them and report them to law enforcement.

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