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American Samoa starts immigration amnesty program

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa — American Samoa will be granting amnesty to immigrants living in the US territory illegally.

The immigration amnesty program is intended to help provide a more accurate count of the island's population, which showed a 3.1 percent drop during the 2010 U.S. Census, said Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga.

According to census data, the territory's 2010 population was 55,519, a drop of 1,772 from 2000.

The decline will reduce federal funding that the territory is entitled to, Moliga said.

“Strong suspicion exists that our population was undercounted because undocumented immigrants did not register for fear of deportation,” he said. “I believe the potential loss of federal funds attributed to population decline poses a greater risk to the territory than the risk of legalizing the status of those persons who are already here in any event.”

The territory controls its own immigration and customs, instead of the US government. The amnesty will be possible after the territory makes changes to its immigration law that outlines quotas for the number of immigrants who may enter.

Most people living in American Samoa without legal permission are from neighboring Samoa, an independent country with language, cultural and family ties. Others include immigrants from Fiji, Tonga, the Philippines and Korea. Most overstay an entry permit.

After a registration period from Feb. 18 to March 14, those living in American Samoa without legal permission will be given an opportunity to legalize their residency status. Only those who have been in the territory illegally before June 30, 2013, are allowed to register, said Deputy Attorney General Mitzie Jessop. They will need documents including a valid passport, photo ID, a birth certificate and any immigration travel documents.

Felons are not eligible.

Moliga announced the program's launch Thursday night on state-run television. — Associated Press