Immigration Board responds to claims of being unfair
Several officials with the Immigration Office and some members of the public have labeled the current Immigration Board (IB) as a “Disciplinary Board” instead of one dealing in matters of immigration, pointing to some of their decisions as unfair and unlawful, according to phone calls Samoa News has received.
The allegations include accusations that the current Immigration Board is not fair with their decisions in terms of denying or approving foreigners to remain in the territory, and that sometimes, board members do not recuse themselves when a family member comes before the board for hearings, causing a conflict of interest.
One Immigration official further noted that “having an attorney sit during the Immigration Board hearings should not occur, given that he’s the one influencing the board members.”
RESPONSE TO ALLEGATIONS
Chairman of the Board, Frank Gaisoa, told Samoa News via phone interview, that currently there is no statute banning the government attorney from sitting in during the hearings, because he assists the board in making an informed decision during the hearings.
(Samoa News understands that Assistant Attorney General Vincent Kruse is the attorney who has been present during the IB meetings.)
Gaisoa said, "During hearings, we seek his advice and recommendation in a matter where the law comes into place for a foreigner, to protect the board and to dismantle previous occasions where the Attorney General would revoke the board’s decision because there was no attorney to assist the previous board.”
The chairman stated the current Immigration Board members are new to their positions, which is why the Assistant AG is required to sit in during hearings. Maybe in due time when board members are used to the process, they will no longer need for an attorney to be present, he added.
Gaisoa also denied allegations that they have denied any foreigner from overseas to reside in the territory unfairly. However they have denied requests from businesses which are seeking to bring in foreigners to work in the territory.
“We are trying to eliminate the increase of foreigners entering the territory without proper documentation, especially Asian businesses,” the IB chairman said.
An immigration official, who wished not to be named, told Samoa News that out of ten files of foreigners, the IB is only approving two or three cases and denying the rest.
Gaisoa made it clear that they are not being discriminatory, but their decisions are based on the law, because they don’t want their decisions to backfire on them — with their mission to protect American Samoa.
Assistant AG Kruse responded to Samoa News queries, noting that he’s the attorney assigned by the Attorney General to give legal advice to the Immigration Board.
“If you will recall when the current Immigration Board members were going through confirmation hearings in the House, many Representatives made comments regarding the workings of previous Immigration Boards.
“In response to these comments, (Tualauta) Rep. Florence Saulo (a former Immigration Board member) raised an important point that during her time, as a board member, the board was not given any training on immigration law.
“If I recall correctly, the essence of Rep. Saulo's comments were that after being appointed and confirmed as Immigration Board members they were given files, put in a room and expected to start making decisions.
“Attorney General Afoa did not want our current board to begin work in that way and it was in this spirit that the Attorney General directed that the new Immigration Board be given training on local immigration law and that an attorney from our office be assigned to assist the board and better serve the people of American Samoa. I am the attorney who was assigned to this task.”
Kruse noted that prior to having any hearings, the board was given several weeks of training on local immigration law as well as immigration policies and procedures. The training was to give the board a solid foundation in immigration law so that board members would be able to make decisions in accordance with local law.
After completing its training the board began to formally meet and it was the board that decided that it wanted their legal adviser to be present during board meetings, he explained.
“While I do sit in on board hearings, my only role in board hearings is to answer questions which the board might ask me and to advise on the law,” the Ass’t AG said, adding “there is no law which prevents the board from having its legal adviser present during board hearings.”
Concerning allegations of possible conflicts of interest between board members and immigration petitioners, Kruse noted it is up to the individual board member to announce a conflict in interest in a particular case and recuse themselves.
“If we are aware of any potential conflicts, we will discuss [it] with the individual member and ask that he/she consider appropriate action. So far, board members have voluntarily removed themselves in conflict cases,” he stated.