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Tongan overstayer raises more questions about Immigration

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Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The case of a Tongan national who was supposed to leave American Samoa after her sponsor terminated her sponsorship in 2016 has surfaced, after reports circulated that the woman is employed by a local store/ restaurant in Nu’uuli, despite the fact that her Immigration ID expired in March 2017.

It's alleged that the reason why this Tongan woman is still on island is because an official in the Governor’s Office had asked the Immigration Office not to deport the woman, but allow him to be the new sponsor.

(Samoa News points out that there is a recording between the sponsor and the senior immigration officer wherein the immigration officer names the Governor's Office employee).

Samoa News was able to obtain copies of the letters from the woman’s sponsor to the Immigration Board and the Chief Immigration Officer (CIO) regarding the issue.

Sources confirmed to Samoa News this week that the Tongan national is employed by a local store/restaurant in Nuuuli. Samoa News paid a visit to the business place earlier this week but was told by a person who was in the area at the time that the restaurant was closed down by representatives from the Department of Health this week, due to some health issues that had to be addressed before the establishment could reopen.

Based on information received by Samoa News, the Tongan woman’s sponsor sent a ‘Termination of Sponsorship’ letter to the Immigration Board on Dec. 27, 2016, informing the Board that she’s no longer the sponsor for the Tongan woman.

The sponsor informed the Board that the reason why she decided to terminate her sponsorship, is because the Tongan women not only stole from her, but she no longer resides with her and her family, and that she currently lives with her husband and family in Leloaloa.

A second letter from the sponsor was sent to the CIO, after 5 months without any word regarding the issue.

In her letter to the CIO, dated Apr. 18, 2017, the sponsor asked Peseta Dennis Fuimaono for help, concerning the case of the Tongan woman who was supposed to depart the territory but unfortunately, "is still on island".

In her letter, the sponsor informed Peseta that in 2015, under the auspices of Governor Lolo’s amnesty program, she became the immigration sponsor for this Tongan woman.

“I did not bring her to American Samoa. I simply legalized her stay in the territory,” the sponsor wrote.

According to the sponsor, the Tongan woman came to her family to help care for her mother in law, as the original caregiver - a female from Savaii - was traveling back and forth and it was difficult to obtain an immigration ID for her.

“The Tongan woman had been overstaying in American Samoa since 2003 when I met her in 2012. At this time, Governor Lolo had announced that he was going to begin an amnesty program for overstayers. The Tongan woman was qualified for amnesty and the Savaii girl did not, that’s why the Savaii girl was sent back home permanently and this Tongan girl stayed with my family. In 2015, the Tongan girl received an immigration ID under the amnesty program,” the sponsor wrote.

The sponsor’s mother in law passed away in Feb. 2016, and the Tongan woman got married in Aug. 2016.

Subsequently, the Tongan woman’s husband moved in with the sponsor's family; but in Dec. 2016, four months after they got married, the Tongan woman and her husband moved out from the sponsor’s home.

It was in Dec. 2016 when the sponsor moved to terminate her sponsorship of the Tongan woman. The sponsor also paid for the Tongan woman's return airline ticket to Tonga. However, the sponsor said that a senior immigration officer told her verbally that the immigration office will not remove the Tongan woman from American Samoa because someone has asked the Board to stay her removal on the basis of her marriage relationship.

The sponsor also cited in her letter to Peseta several parts of the local immigration law which states that the Tongan woman must leave the territory due to the fact that her immigration status is expired, and therefore, she’s an overstayer.

The sponsor, in her letter, said that despite the fact that the Tongan woman is married, she still can’t stay in the territory because her husband is not a US National, and her immigration ID has expired.

In the meantime, the sponsor is yet to get reimbursed for the bond she paid when she sponsored the Tongan woman and even worse, she has lost about $700 for the return airline ticket she purchased for the Tongan woman. Because the ticket was purchased so long ago and went unused, the airline will not reimburse the money.

Efforts to obtain a comment from the Immigration Board chairwoman yesterday were unsuccessful.