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REAL ID update: ASDHS team sent to Hawai’i to get specific details

Paid for by USDHS

The local Department of Homeland Security (ASDHS) has sent a team to Hawai’i to obtain specific details that would help American Samoa come into full compliance with all provisions of the federal REAL ID Act, when it comes to locally issued driver’s licenses and identification cards.

As announced in a Jan. 19, 2018 in a national statement, the US Department of Homeland Security (USDS), had said that effective yesterday, Feb. 5, residents of American Samoa will no longer be able to use territory-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards to fly domestically or enter federal buildings and military installations.

Compliance with the federal law, which became effective in 2005, was one of the two main issues at last Friday’s continuing Senate Public Safety/Homeland Security hearing from earlier in the week. The other issue is the use of Certificate of Identity to travel to Hawaii. (See yesterday’s edition for details.)

Responding to a committee question, ASDHS director Samana Semo Ve’ave’a explained that American Samoa’s proposal to USDHS is to be in full compliance by October of 2018.

He said the governor was sending a letter to USDHS officials requesting the continued use of currently issued driver’s licenses and ID cards, while the territory works on compliance issues.

Samana also noted that there are only certain provisions left in the REAL ID Act for which American Samoa must comply. And to assist American Samoa meeting full compliance, Samana said an ASDHS team left last Friday for Hawai’i, to work with the state’s officials.

He says this trip to Hawai’i is paid for by USDHS and that state officials from Hawai’i along with US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will later travel to the territory to work with local officials on all areas needing compliance.

The governor’s executive assistant, Iulogologo Joseph Pereira told Samoa News last week that FEMA is eager to work with American Samoa to move towards compliance with the federal law.

During last Friday’s hearing, a committee question was raised as to who is at fault for why American Samoa remains non-compliant after all these years and is there any money left in federal grants to help the territory.

Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale responded that since 2005—- when the REAL ID Act went into effect — there have been at least three different police commissioners. Additionally, he along with Samana and current Police Commissioner Le’i Sonny Thompson — another witness at the hearing — weren’t onboard at the time. Therefore, he couldn’t provide a direct response at this time.

However, Talauega said the ASDHS has an ongoing probe into federal funds awarded to American Samoa to come into compliance.

During another hearing on this matter early last week, Samana had explained that USDHS awarded $300,000 to American Samoa to comply with this federal law between 2008 and 2013. But several change orders later, the total amount awarded to American Samoa came to $2.1 million — but the territory — up to now — remains non-compliant and there are no funds left.  (Lolo Administration took office in January 2013.)

One issue which American Samoa needs in order to be put itself in compliance is locally approved legislation for the REAL ID Act.

Responding to Samoa News inquiries, the Governor’s Legal Counsel, Alema Leota said the proposed legislation is in its final stages. “It’s submission date [to the Fono] will depend on the project timeline,” he said last Thursday adding that “we want to get it out as soon as possible.”

Regarding the governor’s second letter to USDHS seeking an extension beyond Feb. 5, Leota said the letter was to be sent last week. “The letter outlines the efforts to bring American Samoa into compliance,” he explained. “It outlines the legislation, funding, action items, and lays out a timeline for compliance.”

According to USDHS, the extensions are renewable at the discretion of the Secretary of Homeland Security, provided the state has provided adequate justification for continued noncompliance. Renewal is not automatic. Additionally, extensions will be renewed only if the state demonstrates continuing progress in meeting the REAL ID standards.