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Lolo raises issue of U.S. National status with feds

US nationals traveling on US passports, but being required to pay a fee to enter the independent state of Samoa is one of the issues Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga took up with federal and territorial officials at yesterday’s annual meeting of the Interagency Group on Insular Areas (IGIA) held at the White House.


Lolo noted the passport issue after an official of the US Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) addressed the IGIA panel discussion, on federal immigration matters pertaining to the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas.


When Interior Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas, Esther Kia’aina asked the governors of the territories and their representatives for any comments pertaining to CIS, Lolo pointed to the “treatment of our [US] passport in our neighboring Samoa,” saying that “we [US nationals] carry US passports” but it’s noted in the passport that “we are not US citizens.”


And because of this distinction for American Samoans, the governor said, “We have to pay money to enter Samoa,” but when “you’re traveling with a ‘real American passport’,” no entry fee is required.


Lolo explained that the reason he used the words “real and unreal” is that “I believe our passport is not real at all” — referring to the US passports carried by US nationals. (The “real and unreal” statement brought some laughter from those attending the IGIA meeting.)


“It’s embarrassing to carry an American passport that one small nation will not recognize,” he said and reiterated that US nationals pay a fee when entering Samoa.


The USCIS official pointed out that American Samoans are considered US nationals not US citizens. And Kia’aina informed the official, “but is that something you can explore with the US State Department with regards to the treatment of the passport and how US nationals are treated versus US citizens?”


“I know that this is an issue... that we’ve dealt with at the Office of Personnel Management. They are under presidential directive to ensure that all US nationals are eligible for federal jobs,” she told the IGIA meeting. “Yet when you see any job application or announcement it only says US citizens.”


She suggested to the governor that maybe this is something that “we can bring to the attention of the State Department and just have a discussion with USCIS.”


Lolo noted, “I’m very sure that our attorney general has raised the issue with the State Department and we’re hoping that somebody in the federal government will define who we are and what good we are.”


The Samoa government’s policy requiring American Samoans to pay an entry fee has been in place for several years since the time of the late former Attorney General Sialega Malaetasi Togafau and it’s an issue that has been raised in the past by US nationals with former Gov. Togiola Tulafono as well as former Congressman Faleomavaega Eni. And early last year, it was raised with Congresswoman Aumua Amata.


Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi told Samoa News last month that unless the American Samoa Government waives its fees for entry permits, Samoa will continue with its entry permit fees for American Samoans. (See Jan. 15, 2016 edition of Samoa News for details.)