US Immigration and Tonga

Even though I'm a long way away from the United States, I'm very aware that the issue of immigration is a hot issue right now. The purpose of this post is not to weigh in on what should be done or even to offer any personal opinions on immigration, but instead to provide a Tongan perspective on US policies.

If a Tongan wants to visit the United States, he or she needs a visa. Pretty obvious right? Actually, it is a lot more complicated than it might appear. Because there is no embassy in Tonga, anyone who wants to visit the United States has to fly to Fiji, which is the closest embassy and apply in person. That's an expensive trip for most people but it is the only way they can legally visit friends and family in the US or just vacation. Prior to September 11th, the embassy used to make ocassional visits to Tonga to process visa requests. However the process now involves being fingerprinted and the machine they use for fingerprinting can not leave the embassy in Fiji for security reasons. (At least that is how the US Ambassador to Fiji explained it to us during our training.)

Once a Tongan gets to Fiji, they may get a visa or they may not. Many visas are issued for a year, but you can get a two year visa and ocassionally a ten year visa. The biggest reason that people get turned down is because the US believes that person might stay. If you have a good job, a house and a family in Tonga, you will probably get the visa. But if you are a young person, just out of school with no strong ties, you'll probably get turned down. Contrast this with New Zealand which has an open visa policy for Tongans and it is easy to see why someone might opt to visit there instead of the United States. Of course, it is also a lot closer. Getting a visa to visit is difficult but it's even harder if someone wants to immigrate to the US. That involves entering a lottery conducted by the State Department.

But this is only one side to the issue of immigration in Tonga. If a Tongan is arrested in the United States, they are deported back to Tonga. It might be after serving a jail sentence or just a way to avoid jail. From the US perspective, this probably makes a lot of sense. From the Tongan perspective, these deportees are often the proverbial "Fish out of water".

Many of the Tongan deportees have grown up in the United States, some only speak English and coming back to Tonga is a very tough adjustment. During our training, we met a deportee on Vava'u who runs an organization called the Ironman Ministries. That group tries to help the deportees adjust to life in Tonga, which is very different than the United States. I've met deportees here who are actively involved in their communities and have completely turned around their lives. Others have jobs while some resort back to their previous lives of crimes.

I recently heard a story about a deportee who was spending his first Christmas outside of jail in 20 years. The week of the holidays he got arrested by the police here.

I was introduced to a Tongan, not knowing he was a deportee. I greeted him in Tongan and he had no idea what I was saying, not because my Tongan was so bad, but because he was just back from the United States and didn't know how to speak the local language.

It is no wonder that many of the deportees find themselves comfortable around Peace Corps volunteers. We all speak English and for many they consider themselves more American than Tongan.

***Other News***
I previously mentioned the Op/Ed piece in the New York Times about Peace Corps. Here are some responses to that letter.

Senator Dodd letter to NY Times:

Other letters:

The following article is from Matangi Tonga. I thought you might find it interesting.

Tonga's Nukuleka, the birth place of Polynesia

NUKULEKA, a small fishing village on the northern shores of eastern Tongatapu, at the entrance to the Fanga'uta Lagoon, has been identified by a Canadian archaeologist, Professor David V. Burley, as the cradle of Polynesia.David drew his conclusion from his final excavation at Nukuleka in August 2007 where, with his team of three archaeological students from the Simon Fraser University, Canada and a scholar from France, they found pieces of Lapita pottery that confirmed his belief.

"The big pieces of pottery are about 2,900 years old and with the others there may be 50 years difference," he said."Tonga was the first group of islands in Polynesia to be settled by the Lapita people about 3,000 years ago, and Nukuleka was their first settlement in Tonga," said David.

Lapita people

The Lapita people, the cultural ancestors of modern Polynesians, were the makers of Lapita pottery and David's research is showing that they moved out of island Melanesia and into the South Pacific islands making the initial human colonization of the region.David is an authority on pottery in Tonga and in Polynesia who has done extensive archaeological excavation throughout the Tonga Islands since 1989. He has been to 'Ata, 'Eua, Ha'apai, Vava'u, Niuafo'ou and Niuatoputapu, but most of his findings were on Tongatapu.

David said that within 100 years of the arrival of the Lapita People, the whole of the Tonga islands were settled. "Then a thousand years later they moved eastwards to eastern Polynesia.

Plentiful shell fish

"There are 19 Lapita sites that we have found around the Fanga'uta lagoon," said David. "They came here first about 3,000 years ago when the lagoon sea level was higher than today. There were no mangroves, so the lagoon shore was a big beach, and the lagoon was full of shellfish, and everything that we have dug up was packed with layers of shellfish. When we excavated at Havelu, there was no dirt, just solid shells. "The waterfront around Nukuleka is still rich with shells, imagine 3,000 years ago. At the bottom of the Nukuleka site we found that they were also eating a lot of turtles and birds. We have documented 26 species of birds, including big pigeons and the shells were mainly Kaloa'a."

David's excavation at Nukuleka in August 2007 was rewarded with some of his best findings."This site was first excavated by Poulsen in 1964-65 and they found sherds, very different from other findings in Tonga, but very similar to what we found to the west, to western Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and so on, so obviously these people come from the west, based on linguist and other evidence."The designs in the pottery are very distinctive and similar to the tapa designs of today, they tell us how related they are to designs in other areas in Tonga and other places," David said. "The designs are also very similar to tattoo designs."

David returned to Nukuleka with his team in August to gather enough evidence to substantiate his claim that this is the earliest site in Tonga, and to collect samples for carbon dating."What we are trying to prove that this is the first site in Tonga, and every thing that we have found verifies that," he said."The Lapita pottery in Tonga shows they were here for 100 years before they started decorating the pot, then 100 to 125 years later they stopped completely decorating the pots," said David, who is working on a book about the site."I wanted to come back here. I want to give something back to the villages of what I have found. I lived in these villages for months, took the stuff away and they never heard from me, but now I want to give them something back."I want to do a better exhibition when the museum is on a better footing," he said.

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