Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:
Thank you for allowing me to present my testimony this morning concerning House Bill 25-75, a bill which declares "that the People of American Samoa and the American Samoa Government shall not recognize the use of the name 'Samoa' to refer only to the People and the Government of Western Samoa".
Let me begin by saying that I respect the decision made by several members of the leadership of the House to co-sponsor this legislation, and I understand that should a majority of the members of the House vote for the legislation, it will be sent to the Senate for further consideration.
I do appreciate your calling this hearing today. I would have liked to testify in person, but, as Congress is beginning its Second Session on the day of this hearing, my primary obligation as your Representative in Washington is to participate in those meetings.
Mr. Chairman, for the past several weeks and months, there have been a number of media accounts -- accurately reported or not -- on the provisions of this bill and on the public statements of several officials, including myself, about those provisions. I would ask that the Committee accept this statement as my official position on this matter.
We all have different opinions concerning the substance of this bill and its far-reaching implications --not only for our people, but for our current system of government as a territory and for our relationship with the United States and with the independent and sovereign nation of Samoa.
As American Samoa's delegate to the United States House of Representatives and as a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs/International Relations for the past nine years, I have had the opportunity to participate in the formulation of foreign policy for our nation. Given this background, I want to share with the Committee a few observations concerning this bill and the impact it could have on our territory.
Perhaps the most fundamental question before us is, should the bill become law, what the law would do and how it would affect the lives of those of us who live in American Samoa. What impact would the law have on American Samoa, and would it be in compliance with the constitutions of both the United States and American Samoa?
I make reference to the constitution of the United States, and of course to the federal laws applicable to American Samoa, because certain provisions of the bill would have a direct bearing on U.S. foreign policy and on treaty relationships between the U.S. and other nations of the world.
Some people have asked why this bill was introduced. It is my understanding that one of the reasons this bill was introduced was to counter the initiative taken by the Prime Minister of the Independent State of Samoa and his cabinet to amend that nation's constitution by deleting the word "Western" from its name. As a result of that initiative, the country is now officially known as the "Independent State of Samoa", or just "Samoa". It is currently enrolled under that name in the official records of the United Nations, of which body it has been a member since 1976.
Mr. Chairman, in considering this legislation I believe that it is important for the Members of the Committee to separate the fa'a Samoa from the foreign relations of the United States. Our fa'a Samoa -- our traditional Samoan way, which is built upon our matai system, our salutations and traditional protocols, i.e. the mutual respect accorded between our matai in American Samoa and the Independent State of Samoa -- has not been affected, and it should not in any way be affected by this matter now under consideration by the Committee.
What I am saying is that our fa'a Samoa remains intact -- le va feavata'i o tupu ma 'e'e o le atunu'u -- i tamali'i ma failauga -- faletua ma tausi -- leai lava se mea o lo'o afaina ai le va fa'aleatunu'u ia Tumua ma Pule, le Faleagafulu, faapea le Motu Sa ia Fa'atui ma To'oto'o o le Faleula.
Having said that, what I am suggesting is that we ought not to confuse our fa'a Samoa tradition with a matter that speaks to the functioning and operation of governments and the relationships between them. In other words, the name by which the independent State of Samoa chooses to call itself is a political matter. Does it, then, require a political response?
Mr. Chairman, as I said earlier -- and correct me if I am wrong -- this bill was introduced as a retaliatory measure against the government of the Independent State of Samoa for changing its name in accordance with its duly constitutional rights and privileges as a sovereign nation.
In retaliation for what the State of Samoa has done, the sponsors of this bill are proposing to amend certain provisions of our local immigration laws so as to limit or restrict or prohibit the entry of any citizen of the State of Samoa whose passport and related travel documents do not identify the traveler as being from "Western Samoa" as opposed to "Samoa".
Given that the Governor has publicly stated that he intends to veto this bill if it passes the Fono, it is my opinion that if the bill passes and is sent to the Governor it will be vetoed and returned to the Fono for further consideration. Should each house of the Fono be able to muster the two-thirds majority necessary to override the Governor's veto, the bill would then be sent to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior for final consideration.
I have outlined this process because I think it is important to realize that there is very little chance that this bill will ever become law. But, for argument's sake, what would happen if the bill did become law?
Without claiming to speak for the State of Samoa, I can outline a few of the options available to the Prime Minister of Samoa should this bill become law. Just as we currently have control over our immigration laws, so does the State of Samoa. The government of Samoa could choose to prohibit any Samoan U.S. national from entering Samoa. This prohibition could also include U.S. nationals who travel on U.S. passports. Note that I was careful not to include U.S. citizens who happen to be of Samoan ancestry.
So, the enactment of this bill into law could reasonably be expected to lead to thousands of Samoan U.S. nationals being prohibited from entering Apia. At the same time, there would be thousands of Samoan U.S. citizens who would continue to enjoy the privilege of traveling to Apia to visit relatives or vacation because under international law, and in accordance with the principles outlined in the Treaty of Friendship between the State of Samoa and the United States, the citizens of both countries are accorded the privilege to travel freely as long as those citizens comply with the rules and laws of their respective countries.
The Prime Minister of the State of Samoa could also choose to write to the President of the United States to seek clarification as to the official U.S. policy (as distinguished from the policy of American Samoa) towards the State of Samoa. Such a request could call into question the intent of U.S. sovereignty over American Samoa.
If the matter is controversial enough that it receives the attention of the President, both the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Interior would be directly involved. While this is going on, I suspect that there would be outrage expressed by both the U.S. nationals wanting to go to Samoa and by the citizens of Samoa wanting to come to American Samoa.
Given that 60% of our cannery workers are citizens of the State of Samoa, have you thought about what would happen to them? What about the citizens of the State of Samoa who have married Samoan U.S. nationals, have had children, and have lived here for 30 or 40 years? Are you going to prohibit them from returning to American Samoa after a visit to the State of Samoa?
Looking now to the federal government, because of this perceived abuse of local immigration law, the federal government could initiate action to remove or reduce the authority of American Samoa to control its borders. To put it more plainly, if this disagreement were to get out of hand, American Samoa could lose all control over its borders and become subject to the federal Immigration and Nationality Act with enforcement by the Immigration and Nationality Service (INS). The federal government could easily look to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, with its immigration problems, for a precedent for federal intervention.
There are already four bills pending in Congress concerning CNMI's labor and immigration problems, and Chairman Don Young is leading a Congressional Delegation to the CNMI next month so members of the House Committee on Resources can see first-hand the nature of these controversies. I expect to see action on legislation addressing the CNMI problem this year, and if there is perceived to be a problem in American Samoa, it would very easy to add an "American Samoa" section to the bill.
Given the minimal chance of this bill becoming law, this may not be the best time to start a "fire in our own house" over which we may lose control? Creating an immigration controversy in American Samoa at this critical time, when the CNMI is already under severe federal investigation for perceived immigration abuses, invites federal scrutiny of American Samoa and could add momentum for greater federal encroachment in American Samoa, such as the establishment of a federal district court to address other perceived abuses.
This, in turn, could lead to greater federal influence in American Samoa and force on us a closer federal-state relationship. Ultimately this course of events could lead to the deterioration of our unique territorial status and the protection guaranteed our traditional culture. Among other things, we risk undermining our land tenure system (the basis for which would be deemed unconstitutional elsewhere in the United States), and this would have a tremendous impact on the fundamental foundations of the matai system and fa'a Samoa as a whole.
The foregoing may seem like a "worst case scenario", but I believe the possibilities I have outlined are plausible consequences of H.B. 25-75, should it become law.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, I would like to place the name of "Western Samoa" in historical perspective. Once again, I would like to say that it is clear under international law that the State of Samoa has the right as an independent sovereign nation to call itself by whatever name it desires.
We voluntarily chose to call ourselves American Samoa when we joined the U.S. family with the Treaties of Cession. American Samoans are very proud of this association and are even prouder to be called Americans.
As to our brethren, the State of Samoa was involuntarily stuck with the designation of "Western Samoa" as part of a colonial legacy spawned by the division of Samoa by colonial powers in the last century. Today, the State of Samoa has the right, and some would say the duty, to remove the stigma of colonial domination by dropping the arbitrary and involuntary "Western" designation.
As fellow Samoans, we should support, not chastise, our brothers and sisters as they seek to shed these remnants of colonialism.
Time will not allow me to go into more detail on the history of these name changes between American Samoa and the State of Samoa, but if this Committee and this House are concerned with changes in the names of governments, then perhaps our focus should be to consider an appropriate change in the name of our territory, and how best to use the word "Samoa" since, after all, the leaders of the Independent State of Samoa have made no attempts to stop us from using the term "Samoa".
My point here is that there is nothing under the sun
-- not even any expression of concern from the leaders of the State of Samoa -- to prohibit us from changing our name. If we no longer prefer the name "American Samoa", we could consider the name "Territory of Samoa", or "Samoa, U.S.A." (which is similar to "Guam, U.S.A."), or "U.S. Samoa" (similar to "U.S. Virgin Islands"). If your concern centers on the premise that we here in American Samoa have become less Samoan than our cousins living in the State of Samoa, then we should address that concern in a productive, proactive way.
I know the members of this Committee as well as the other members of the House have devoted tremendous amounts of time to this bill and the underlying concerns it raises. What I am asking is that you look again at the bill and what the likely outcomes would be if it were to become law.
I can tell you that, in my honest opinion, this bill will do more harm than good to our government-to-government relationship with the independent and sovereign State of Samoa. This bill does absolutely nothing to promote a better political, social and economic relationship with the State of Samoa. We should bear in mind that our own economic well-being is very much dependent on our treatment of citizens from the State of Samoa. To treat these people as second-class citizens will only result in more economic hardship to all Samoans -- increasing the unemployment in our territory and thereby reducing the 0tax base on which our territorial government depends for revenues to provide services to the people of our territory and the salaries of the 4,000 people who work for the local government.
Our governor has already informed us of the financial status of our government, and I need not remind this Committee of the importance of your input in budgeting and appropriating taxpayers' money to pay our debts and provide for the services that people expect and demand from their government.
I would respectfully suggest that the members of this Committee direct the Fono staff to prepare an economic impact statement of the consequences to our local economy if this bill should ever become law. I have already outlined to you my general observations on the economic impact this bill will have on our people and government, and I believe we are treading on dangerous ground.
Given the political realities of the day, whatever positive arguments there are for enacting this bill into law are so far outweighed by the "down-sides", that I think it is clear that other alternatives should be considered.
If you believe, as I do, that this bill is not the best response we can give to the name change our cousins have made, but for political reasons, you feel that you must take some action, then I suggest that you adopt a resolution which expresses the sense of the Fono that the change in name was inappropriate. That resolution could then be conveyed to the Parliament in Samoa for their consideration. Such an action brings the issue to their attention, but does so in such a manner that the chances of the dispute spiraling out of control are minimized.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, I would simply ask that the Committee give the possible consequences of this bill their careful attention. This is not a measure to be passed without deep and careful consideration of the far-reaching implications -- not only for our people, but for our current system of government as a territory and for our relationship with the United States and with the independent and sovereign nation of Samoa.
Thank you again for the opportunity to submit testimony on this matter.