Samoan overstayers in America long for the islands
More than a hundred Samoan citizens who have been forced to overstay in the United States, some with expired U.S. Visitor’s Visas, have appealed to American Samoa Governor, Lolo Matalasi Moliga, to ease restrictions and allow them to return home.
They are among 338 Samoans from Samoa and American Samoa who are stranded in different parts of the U.S. and have been since late March when American Samoa closed its borders to incoming Hawaiian Airlines flights.
The Samoan citizens are members of a fast growing Facebook group called Tagata Tu Faatasi Alliance of American Samoa.
They are citizens of Samoa who hold legal residency in American Samoa.
From Bountiful, Utah, Aioevaga Tuna, said she is pushing for repatriation because of the elderly men and women who are stuck in various states and wish to return to American Samoa.
“I don’t have the exact number but I would like to guess there are a hundred of us…I have been counting the people as they come in…my biggest fear is that the American Samoa Government will say we can’t come home and only American Samoans can return home,” Tuna told the Samoa Observer.
“We are taxpayers. I’ve only worked in American Samoa. I’ve never worked anywhere else. American Samoa is the only place where I have worked…where I joined the workforce…I pay taxes, I am part of the community. I have been counted in the Census.”
It is the Samoan elderly who are waiting in Hawai’i for a return flight home that drove Tuna to push for repatriation.
“They [the elderly] have congregated in Hawai’i because it gives them comfort being close to the airport,” said Tuna.
Tu Faatasi is not only collecting names and sharing their stories, they are also gathering data on the individuals who wish to return to American Samoa. The group is also collecting information being disseminated by A.S.G.
“Millions and millions of dollars in federal funding has been given to the American Samoa…that is one of the blessings American Samoa has,” Tuna said.
“Lolo is very scared of getting the virus on island which is understandable…we were understanding when they first shut the border, after the first month, then the second month, the third month, five months but it is now going on six months.”
Tuna traveled to Utah on a U.S. Visa.
“My Visa has already expired…I didn’t realize how many of us there are…we are overstayers. So we have had to pay about $500 for the application to extend the Visa…it’s the case for a lot of other residents, legal residents of American Samoa who came here on a Visa,” she said.
“We can’t work here. Legally, we cannot work here so our source of income has been cut off. We work for the private sector.”
Just because someone contracts the virus, it does not mean certain death, she added.
“American Samoa has the funding, we have the capability, we have the places to quarantine but LBJ [the Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital] is just scared. We understand the requirements...the stranded residents know more than anybody how important it is to play safe – wash hands, wear a mask, social distance because we are trying very hard to upkeep these practices so we don’t get infected,” Tuna said.
“We are trying to get back home. I’ve taken one test and it has been a negative because we went to a wedding and we found out that one of the family members was diagnosed with Covid.”
She plans to travel with her 15-year-old nephew.
“I want the Governor to step up and be a fearless leader. Be a learned leader…I’d like for him to have a little empathy for the people, for the elderly people out here. The mental issues are real. They keep saying we are lucky because there are better hospitals here but they don’t understand that some of us cannot go to the hospitals. Some of us do not have money to pay the hospitals. We are an added financial burden on our families…we have no financial assistance whatsoever,” said Tuna, who works for Samoa News.
The Tu Faatasi group states: “Our group has been stranded and unable to return home to American Samoa since the border closure on March 26, 2020.”
“Our aim is to collect data on where everyone is stranded so that it may be shared with the American Samoa Government in hopes we can convince them to safely repatriate American Samoa residents,” the group states on Facebook.
Those who wish to contact Tu Faatasi may do so via email: [email protected]