Plight of Samoan prisoners raised in U.S. territory

The plight of Samoan nationals who have completed their prison sentences and are still detained in American Samoa’s Territorial Correctional Facility has been raised in the territory’s legislature.

According to Talanei News, American Samoa Representative Avagafono Vaimaga Maiava, a former deputy commissioner of public safety in the territory, expressed concern that the government could be liable to court proceedings if anything happened to the Samoan inmates who were still detained but have completed their prison sentences.

Some of the inmates were issued with deportation orders to Samoa but do not have travel documents or their sponsors cannot be located to pay their fares home, added Talanei News.

Avagafono reportedly told the House recently that since a new attorney general has been confirmed for the territory, he is of the view that it is time for the issue to be addressed.

He said the “brothers from Samoa” have already served their time but they are still locked up, and their immigration sponsors should be made responsible for the costs of returning them to Samoa. 

The Representative then urged the House’s Legal Affairs Committee to convene a hearing next week to discuss the matter and how the Samoan inmates could be assisted.

The territory’s acting commissioner of public safety, Fo’ifua Foifua Jr., told Talanei News that he hopes that the spotlight Representative Vaimaga placed on the issue, will lead to discussions on alternatives to deportation for Samoan nationals, who have lived in American Samoa all their lives.

According to  Fo’ifua, some of the defendants were born in Samoa and moved to American Samoa when they were infants, reports Talanei News. 

They then attended school, worked, married and lived in the territory all their lives and it is home to them while others have children with families of their own. 

Hopefully alternatives to deportation can be explored, Fo’ifua told Talanei News during the discussions on what to do with inmates who have served their time but are still behind bars.

It is not known how many Samoan nationals currently reside in American Samoa.

But Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi told Pago Pago-based KHJ News in early 2019 that Samoan nationals who are overstayers in the territory should return home.

“Come home; don’t overstay because the next thing is you will turn to crime and soon you find yourself appearing in court and that is shameful,” Tuilaepa reportedly said.

The concerns highlighted in American Samoa’s legislature coincides with the return of five Samoan men from the U.S. last Friday. They were found guilty of committing criminal offences in America and deported with the American government paying for the charter flight to Samoa.

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