20 Jan Samoa – are we overstayers, troublemakers, and criminal aliens?

20 January, 2018. – If you’re a Samoan who has been harbouring secret dreams of a working holiday picking oranges in sunny California, then forget it. The US Dept of Homeland Security has barred Samoan nationals from qualifying for temporary work visas, together with two other countries – Haiti and Belize.

These temporary visas are given to seasonal workers in agriculture and other industries (similar to the Seasonal Employment program Samoa currently has in place with New Zealand and Australia). The US currently allows the citizens of 80 countries to apply for these visas.

The decision is an odd one because as the US Consul to Samoa points out, few Samoans get this type of visa anyway.

Speaking to Samoa Planet, Mr Antone Greubel said, “For a number of years now, for whatever reason, no Samoan has been issued with a H-2A or H-2B visa.”

He hastened to reassure the public therefore, that this decision won’t impact on any Samoans and that  “The US is friends with the Samoan people.”

So why has the US Dept of Homeland Security targeted Samoa? If Samoans either don’t apply for, OR aren’t ever successful in applying for these temp work visas – why single us out this way?

Their official justification for putting us on the list?  That the Samoan government refuses to co-operate with the US in taking back our people when they are deported. Samoa Planet has asked the Samoan government if they can shed some light on this and the Press Secretary’s office said they will be responding shortly.

There have been whispers of people being detained in camps indefinitely by the US immigration authorities, and it is disturbing to think it could be possible that there are Samoans stuck in a kind of ‘limbo’ somewhere because our country won’t take them?

In the wake of the announcement though, many people have taken to social media to express their views and a general consensus seems to be, that ‘this is what happens when we abuse the system and try to break the rules.’

It seems that even amongst our own people, the perception is that we are an overstaying, law-breaking, trouble-making, welfare-bludging, bunch of undesirables who regularly abuse the privilege of living in America. Therefore, we deserve whatever baffling decision they make regarding our status.

But a look at the numbers reveals a different picture.

The 2016 US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) report states that 240,255 people (who they term ‘aliens’) were removed from the US. Of those, only THREE were Samoans.

ICE’s job is to enforce the US immigration laws by identifying and catching what they call, ‘criminal aliens’, detaining and then removing them. More than half of the people they deported in 2016, were classed as criminal aliens. There’s been much criticism of how that work is carried out and questions of the legality of what ICE does, but that’s another article for another day.

The question we pose today is, if the US only deported 3 Samoans in 2016 – out of nearly quarter of a million ‘aliens’ – then perhaps we are not as big a problem as we think we are? As the media likes to tell us that we are?

As the US Dept of Homeland Security is implying we are?

Some have suggested that the US barring Samoa from these temp visas is a mistake because they really mean Somalia. Because ‘Americans are bad at Geography and I always get people saying Samoa is the same as Somalia!’

This would make sense – except Somalia is not a leading immigration offender either. They are ranked 17th on the ICE list of ‘criminal aliens’.

If we are looking at the Pacific, the report shows that 16 ‘aliens’ from New Zealand were detained and deported, 22 Tongans, 35 from the Marshall Islands, and 63 were sent back to the Federated States of Micronesia.

It’s interesting to note that 417 Canadian ‘aliens’ and 160 from the United Kingdom were removed from the US that year. (But we never hear about Canada or the UK’s problem with their nationals being law-breaking, trouble-making, welfare-bludging undesirables…)

The 2016 US Entry/Exit Overstay Report on visitors who stay beyond their lawful period of admission, also gives valuable insight.

In that year, 2006 Samoans entered the US on a visitor visa ‘for business or pleasure’. 121 of them did not leave by the date they were supposed to.

37 Samoans went to the US on a student or exchange visa, and 5 of them are classed overstayers. Tonga had 62 students enter and 13 overstay. Norway (Pres Trump’s favorite immigration choice) had 7,434 students enter the US and 197 of them overstay.

51 Samoans entered the US on an ‘Other in-scope non-immigrant status’ visa, and 7 didn’t leave when they were supposed to. (Compared with the UK who had 1669 people on similar visas who didn’t leave the US when they were supposed to.)

Do those numbers live up to the perception of us?

Or do these numbers tell us that while there may be a few of our people who break the law and abuse the system – the vast majority of our sisters and brothers in the US visit for only as long as their visa says they can, and leave when and how they are supposed to?

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