Sunia cracks down: Defendants told renew immigration status ASAP
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — “Not paying your hospital bills is not an excuse for not renewing your Immigration ID. When your ID expires, you become an illegal immigrant here in the territory. If you become an illegal immigrant then you can’t work; and if you can’t work, you don’t get paid and you end up stealing someone’s property. And if you come to court with an expired immigration I.D you cannot leave the court. So renew your Immigration status.”
This was the direct message from District Court Judge Fiti Sunia to three defendants who appeared in court Thursday for their hearings. All three defendants have expired Immigration IDs and were ordered by Sunia to renew them before their next court date — which is May 2.
Two of the defendants, Analisa Matthew and Nancy Lopa — both females — appeared in court for their pretrial conference. The third defendant, Mikaele Felise, was making his initial appearance.
According to the report presented to the court by an Immigration officer during a hearing this week, all three defendants have expired immigration IDs, and the Immigration Office is working closely with the sponsors to make sure their IDs are renewed.
When Judge Sunia asked each defendant separately why they didn’t renew their immigration ID, they all provided the same answer: their outstanding hospital bills make it impossible for them to renew their immigration status.
“When I went to the hospital to get my clearance, I was told by the LBJ Finance Office that I have to pay my outstanding bill first, before I can get my clearance. The clearance is one of the requirements to renew my immigration status,” Lopa told the court.
Sunia told the defendant that not paying her hospital bill is not an excuse for not renewing her immigration status.
“Right now you’re an illegal immigrant and the law states that an illegal immigrant must not be allowed to stay in the territory,” Sunia told Lopa. “You have to take care of your bill and renew your immigration status.”
When the cases of the other two defendants were called, the pair gave Sunia the same explanation on why their IDs were not renewed.
After hearing statements from Matthew and Felise, Judge Sunia paused for a moment, before asking the Immigration officer if their office ever notified the sponsors about the situation. The Immigration officer said they are working very closely with the sponsors to make sure the outstanding hospital bills are paid off so these immigrants can renew their immigration status.
Both female defendants are charged with public peace disturbance. The charges stem from an incident that occurred in Tafuna last month, when a group of young men and women engaged in a street fight. Police arrested four individuals, Lopa and Matthew included.
Felise was arrested by police on Tuesday evening and he made his initial appearance Wednesday morning in District Court, where he entered a 'not guilty' plea to a single count of misdemeanor stealing.
According to the government’s case, police responded to a call from Pago Pago regarding a man who was drunk and allegedly assaulting another man. Police arrived at the scene and noticed a crowd of people gathering in front of a store in Pago around 11pm.
A man, who was later identified as the defendant, walked over to the police unit and told officers, “It was me.” Witnesses told police Felise got mad when the victim made fun of him, and Felise grabbed the victim’s neck and allegedly punched him in the face.
All three defendants were released under the supervision of the Immigration office, with the special condition that they must each provide a valid immigration ID when they appear in court on May 02.