Number of overstayers continues to climb and report tells who they are
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Despite the effort by the Lolo & Lemanu Administration under the 2014 Amnesty Program that gave overstayers the chance to register and become legal immigrants, the problem continues because the Immigration Office is not doing its job in enforcing the law, according to a former member of the Immigration Board.
The problem of foreign nationals residing in American Samoa without legal immigration status is on the rise again, according to an Immigration reportm which was shown to Samoa News when the issue involving the 7-month pregnant Filipino national who was allegedly forced to leave American Samoa last month surfaced.
The report contained a list of over 100 Filipino nationals who reside in the territory illegally. But according to a former Immigration Board member, who did not wish to be identified, there is also an increase in the number of people from other foreign countries - besides the Philippines - who are illegally living in American Samoa.
According to the report, Filipino national overstayers enter the territory on a 30-day permit under the sponsorship of an individual sponsor — a person born in American Samoa - and some of them entered American Samoa back in 2016, while others entered in 2017 with some coming in this year too — and they continue to overstay.
Information contained in the report includes the name of the illegal immigrants, the dates of entry, names of the villages where they reside, as well as the name of the sponsors.
Under local immigration laws, except for people from Samoa — who have 250 slots open every year — people from the Philippines and all other countries have only 5 slots.
Chief Immigration Officer Peseta Dennis Fuimaono Lutu told Samoa News in an initial interview that his staff is willing to step in and deport the overstayers, but the problem they continue to face is the lack of manpower to do the job.
“Yes, it’s our job to enforce our immigration laws but we do not have enough employees to carry out the task. We have been short staffed for a long time; and once we have enough people in the office, then the work will be done as soon as possible,” Peseta told Samoa News.
A former member of the Immigration Board told Samoa News, “It will be a continuing problem for American Samoa unless the Immigration Office does something to cure it. We have a lot of illegal immigrants who enter our borders and continue to stay in the territory illegally.”
The worst part of the problem, according to the former board member, is that some of these illegal immigrants end up breaking the law, and some of them are now housed at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF).
“Immigration needs to enforce the law because we, the taxpayers, are the ones who suffer when these illegal immigrants end up in TCF. Not only do we feed them but we also pay for their medical checkups and many other needs.”
Two members of the American Samoa Bar Association, who did not wish to be named, added their thoughts to the issue, saying some of these people from the Philippines, who are now considered overstayers, are also victims of human trafficking in the territory.
According to one of them, some of the immigrants came to American Samoa after they were offered good jobs with a high salary, but when they arrived, they were given other types of jobs to work with a very low salary.
“I say this because I was approached by some of these Filipinos, who explained to me the problem they’re facing and asked me to help them with the situation they’re going through,” said one of the attorneys, who told Samoa News that he did offer to help these people although he did not disclose what type of help he offered.
The President of the Filipino Community in American Samoa refused to comment on the issue — of overstayers — when Samoa News asked him last week. He only said that all Filipinos who are members of the Filipino Community on island are here legally.
Samoa News was able to speak with a few immigrants who are overstayers. Two of them are Filipino nationals, while the other is a citizen of Samoa.
According to the two illegal Filipino nationals, they were offered plumbing jobs by a local construction business with a good salary. They arrived in Feb. 2017 and waited to be hired; unfortunately, they never received a call from either their sponsor or the local construction company.
“The next thing we heard was that our sponsor is now living in Alaska. She left in Dec. 2017 and that’s why we’re moving from place to place because we don’t have immigration papers and we don’t know what to do,” said one of them.
Both men, not surprisingly, would not provide Samoa News with their telephone numbers or the place where they’re working now or where they reside.
The Samoan national on the other hand told Samoa News he came to American Samoa on a 30-day permit under the promise from his aunty, who is his sponsor, that he would have his immigration papers ready before the end of last year.
“Up until now I’m still waiting for my Immigration ID. Right now, I’m working at a local construction company and I’m getting paid every week,” the Samoan citizen said.