American Samoa, an isolated U.S. territory in the South Pacific, hastily revised a five-month-old security order yesterday that had angered Arab American groups and U.S. lawmakers with an immigration ban on travelers of "Middle Eastern descent."
After discussions with officials at the Interior Department, which oversees U.S. territories, American Samoa Attorney General Fiti Sunia issued an alert that bans entry permits for citizens of 24 countries, most in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, without special permission from Samoan authorities.
The list includes countries designated by the U.S. State Department as sponsors of terrorism, such as Iraq and Iran, as well as Asian countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines that are believed to be home to al Qaeda-linked terror cells.
The revision is aimed at deflating controversy that had erupted around the original order, issued in August. It banned entry to those of Middle Eastern heritage and urged airlines and border officials to "take special note" of visitors with "Middle Eastern surnames and features."
The measure, which initially attracted little notice outside seven islands that have relatively few visitors, had in recent days prompted an outcry from the Arab American Institute and others. American Samoa Gov. Tauese P.F. Sunia (D) -- the attorney general's uncle -- said in a statement yesterday that the territory "does not condone discriminatory practices." He said the original order was never intended to restrict entry for U.S. citizens or Samoan residents. A Samoan resident, Michael Homsany, had petitioned the territory's highest court to halt the order because he feared he would not be let back into the islands because of his Arabic heritage.
But Sunia stressed that the original order was based on a report that a Middle Eastern man was conducting surveillance on the U.S. Embassy , and that the territory is limited in its ability to screen visitors.