New entry policies have AG as sole authority to issue entry permits

fili@samoanews.com

To combat the influx of illegal immigrants to the territory, “bringing with them illegal drugs”, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has directed local law enforcement officials to set up immigration entry policies, under which only the Attorney General or his designee will have the sole authority to issue an entry permit.

The governor is also requiring that citizens of 38 countries listed under the American Samoa Entry Permit Waiver Countries (EPWC) program seek approval before entering the territory and pay a $20 fee.

Samoa News points out that American Samoa controls its own borders — both immigration and customs — and does not come under federal jurisdiction.

In his Aug. 29th memo regarding “Policies to Combat Illegal Immigration in American Samoa,” the governor explained that the “influx of immigrants entering our territory illegally, bringing with them illegal drugs and other contraband is well documented.”

Additionally, there is a growing number of immigrants entering the territory on visitors permits and then over-staying well beyond the intended period of their permit.

“Some of these over-stayers go on to commit heinous crimes against our people while here illegally,” said Lolo, who appears to acknowledge a serious problem that has been raised in court in the past and even recently, as more sex cases involving over-stayers are being heard.

The governor also appears to acknowledge what many lawmakers have complained about over the years and in the past several weeks, regarding the “growing number of immigrants who enter on a visitor’s permit for the sole purpose of trying to establish legal residency here, which is contrary to our immigration laws,” the governor said.

He added that there is a category of illegal immigrants that is made up of people whose sponsorships have been terminated; but instead of returning to their countries of origin, these immigrants continue to stay here illegally.

“These activities constitute an immediate threat to the security and well-being of our community,” the governor said.

Lolo has instructed Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale, to work collaboratively with the Governor’s Office, Immigration Board, Public Safety and the local Department of Homeland Security (ASDHS) “to develop and execute specific policies to halt the influx of illegal aliens” into the territory and the growing number of over-stayers.

According to the governor, these policies are to become effective no later than Sept. 1st this year.

“It is important to note that these policies are not intended to discourage visitors who wish to visit our beautiful islands legally, and leave at the end of their visit,” Lolo emphasized in the memo, adding that the polices are “intended to keep out criminals and those who wish to violate our laws, thereby threatening the safety and security of our people, including all of our visitors.”

POLICIES

The governor detailed policies 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

The memo details what’s needed from the visitor or sponsor: valid passport or travel document; police clearance and health clearance from the country of origin; local clearance from the High Court, ASDHS, and LBJ Medical Center; round-trip or onward ticket; sponsor; $40 required fee; and application for permit must be submitted to the AG’s Office no later than 30-days before travel.

These requirements do not apply to U.S. nationals, U.S citizens, and legal residents of American Samoa seeking entry.

Additionally, the requirements do not apply to citizens from Samoa seeking entry as they may continue to apply for a 7-day permit, 14-day permit or 30-day permit; however, the AG or his designee must also approve these permits.

The requirements do not apply to immigrants transiting through American Samoa, as long as the person departs within 24-hours of arrival.

Also exempted from the entry requirements are citizens of countries listed in the EPWC program and citizens of these countries are not required to secure an entry permit before entering the territory. The EPWC list includes New Zealand and Australia (See below for complete list.)

However, they must contact the AG’s Office to secure an “OK to board”, which will be issued upon proof of:

A valid machine readable passport, with the expiration date more than 6 months from departure date; round trip or onward ticket, leaving American Samoa within 30 days or less of arrival; and a $20 fee, which may be paid upon arrival.

A 30-day permit will be issued to these travelers upon arrival, provided they meet the requirements.

VISITOR PERMITS

Also outlined in the memo are immigrants entering on visitor permits that they are not eligible to apply for legal residency or Immigration ID:

•     A visitor entering on a 30-day permit — including 7 and 14 day permits for citizens of Samoa — is not qualified to apply for legal residency in the territory.

•     If a sponsor wishes to bring an immigrant to live in American Samoa, the sponsor must first apply to the Immigration Board and await approval of the board.

•     If a sponsor brings an immigrant on a 30-day permit, the sponsor must return the immigrant to his country of origin at the end of the 30-days, regardless of whether the Board approves an application for residency of such immigrant while still in American Samoa, pursuant to the 30-day permit.

ENFORCEMENT

ASDHS and DPS will assist the Immigration Office in ensuring that all visitors entering the territory leave at the end of the 30-day permit period, unless the permit is renewed. DPS and ASDHS will also assist in enforcing laws against ship jumpers and other over-stayers, and they will provide a list of personnel who will be made available to assist in these enforcement efforts.

DPS will identify resources, including vehicles and other equipment to be made available to assist in enforcement efforts, according to the memo.

See tomorrow’s issue for details on the AG’s memo issued last week based on the governor’s directive.

EPWC LIST

Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Lithuania,, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and United Kingdom — which includes England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

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