Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he has requested the Governor and the Fono for suggestions on legislation he is considering. The proposed bill will amend the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) to allow certain long time residents of American Samoa to apply for U.S. national status. The complete text of Faleomavaega’s letter to Governor Togiola, Speaker Savali and President Gaoteote, which was also copied to the Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Senators and Representatives, is included below.
I am writing to inform you of legislation that I am considering to amend the United States Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The proposed legislation will redefine U.S. national to include certain residents of American Samoa. The goal is to provide U.S. national status to not only the residents of American Samoa for 20 or more years but also to students and persons who are married to U.S. nationals.
Under the current law, only those born in American Samoa or have a parent who was born in American Samoa are eligible to become U.S. nationals. This does not do justice to some 4000 long time residents that have been living continuously in American Samoa for 20 years or more, paid taxes to the American Samoa Government, donated to their churches, and contributed to American Samoa society in many ways. Yet, despite their contributions, they remain without the benefit of U.S. national status.
The bill I am considering is the legislative fix. It will grant U.S. national status to 3 categories of long time residents in American Samoa: 1) Any person who has continuously lived in American Samoa since the age of 5 years or under and has graduated from high school; 2) Any person who has been legally married to a U.S. national, and has continuously resided in American Samoa, for at least 10 years; and 3) Any person who has been physically and legally present in American Samoa for a continuous period of at least 20 years.
In addition, there are several other key provisions:
5-year cutoff period
There is a five year cutoff date, which will allow only people who resided in American Samoa 5 years prior to the enactment of the bill to qualify for U.S. national status. For example, if the bill is signed into law in 2011 only those who were residing in American Samoa prior to 2006 will qualify to become U.S. nationals. The purpose is to avoid an influx to American Samoa of people seeking to take advantage of the proposed bill.
Good moral character requirement
The good moral character requirement is to ensure that the person applying to become a U.S. national has not committed any serious crimes during their continuous residence in American Samoa. This is in accordance with the INA and it prevents against any convicted felons and of other serious crimes from gaining U.S. national status.
Lawfully admitted and continuous residency requirement
The policy is to provide U.S. national status only to those who have remained in American Samoa without interruption. Exceptions are provided in cases when the person must leave American Samoa because of health treatment or other health related issues. In addition, an exception is provided in the case when a person must leave American Samoa to attend school or for official travel to attend forums or seminars.
The construction provision is to ensure that nothing in the proposed bill will alter the authority of the American Samoa Government to control its own immigration laws and procedures.
I have enclosed a copy of the draft bill and will welcome any suggestion you might have on the matter. I have also provided a document with a section by section analysis of the provisions of the bill.