Sunia says Samoa “can’t t tell us what we should do” with overstayers
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The process by the Samoa Government of not accepting its citizens back home in Samoa despite a court order for deportation being issued due to their being overstayers in the territory and their travel documents have expired — did not sit well with the High Court.
Yesterday, Associate Justice Fiti Sunia told attorneys from both sides that the High Court of American Samoa doesn’t listen to any foreign government on how to run its business.
Sunia said the “Samoa government can’t t tell us what we should do to their citizens who have overstayed in the territory.”
The court’s comments were made when the defendant, Alofa Filipo, an overstayer from Samoa appeared before the court yesterday morning for sentencing. Filipo, who has been in custody since his arrest last year appeared before the court two months ago for sentencing. However, the sentencing was continued several times while both parties were trying to work out some issues including communication with the defendant’s sponsor.
When Filipo’s case was called yesterday morning, his defense attorney, Ass’t Public Defender Ryan Anderson confirmed to the court that his client has been vaccinated after he received both shots for COVID-19 a few weeks ago.
When the issue of his departure was discussed, the court pointed out that the Pre Sentence Report (PSR) mentioned the name of the sponsor. Sunia said that immigration laws are clear — that the sponsor has a part to play and responsibility to make sure the alien is under his/her good care.
The court pointed out that Filipo’s immigration ID expired in 2017 and the sponsor never bothered to renew it.
When asked by the court whether Filipo’s travel documents are ready for his departure, Anderson told the court no. He said his office is still trying to locate the sponsor to seek his help for his client’s travel document.
According to Anderson, the Samoa government will not allow anybody departing from American Samoa to enter their county with an expired travel document. Anderson recalled a similar case where one of his clients was ordered by the court to depart the territory due to his illegal immigration status, however, the Samoa government did not allow him back in due to an expired travel document.
Anderson said he surmises that his client will face the same problem.
“Oh no, we will put him the boat once everything is ready,” Fiti said. “They don’t tell us what to do and what we shouldn’t do.”
“This person’s privilege to stay in American Samoa expired 4 years ago. So, that [Samoa] government can’t tell us what to do.”
Sunia reminded both parties that the defendant is a citizen of Samoa and that is the only place on the earth that he belongs. He further stated that if the defendant owns a piece of land on this earth, it is on Samoa. The defendant’s place of birth is also Samoa.
Sunia said the court can put the defendant on the plane that flies every week between the two islands and is monitored by [Ass’t Attorney General Kristie] Soule and her people, or he can also be placed on the vessel that comes every two weeks.
Due to the defendant’s illegal immigration status, Sunia said, “The only option for him is departure.”
Filipo was remanded back to the custody of the government to await his sentencing on June 24th.
Filipo was stopped for speeding which cascaded into a run of bad luck for the defendant, mostly of his own making: First, he did not have a driver’s license, and when apprehended, allegedly punched and kicked a police officer while resisting arrest; Second, when the vehicle he was driving was searched at the police station illegal drugs were allegedly discovered; and Third, in court, he was found to be an overstayer from Samoa.
Filipo is charged with one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine (meth); and one count of unlawful possession of marijuana (pot) — both felonies. Due to Filipo’s illegal immigration status and the seriousness of the allegations against him, the court ordered that he remain in custody without bail.
The government claims that it was in the early morning of Nov. 21, 2019, that the traffic stop of a vehicle was made in the Tafuna area for speeding.
Officers observed the vehicle swerving and overtaking vehicles as it made a wide turn into the Fogagogo road.
After he was Mirandized at the TPS, the suspect refused to make a statement to police, saying his head was hurting from the scuffle and he did not want to talk.
The white crystalline substance tested positive for meth while the green leafy substance tested positive for THC, an active ingredient in marijuana.