Utah man detained and deported to Samoa, leaving family wondering why

(Photo courtesy Sauelelee Manusina) Aufanua Manusina, pictured here with his wife and two of his children, was deported to Samoa on Tuesday.

After living in the United States for 15 years, a West Valley City man was deported to Samoa on Tuesday, leaving his wife wondering how she came to be a single mother of four children younger than 5 years old.

Aufanua Manusina had just renewed his work permit in March. Officials called him back into the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcements field office on Decker Lake Drive on June 20, supposedly to update some documents. An officer told his wife, Sauelelee, that her husband would not be going home with her.

Three weeks later, on Aug. 1, he was deported to Western Samoa (commonly called Samoa), and she was left to take care of four young children in West Valley City.

“Last week, that was the most heartbreaking day for me to face with my children,” Sauelelee Manusina said. “There are no better words to fully describe the sadness that I see in my children’s eyes when I have to explain that their father will not be coming home.”

He was briefly detained at the ICE facility in West Valley City, then was transferred to Cache County jail, where he stayed for three weeks. No one filed charges against him, and his wife struggled to get an answer for why he was being held.

An immigration official confirmed to Aria Nejad, the family’s lawyer, that a “prior misdemeanor” triggered Aufanua Manusina eligibility for deportation, but the officer did not specify the misdemeanor.

(Photo courtesy Sauelelee Manusina) Aufanua Manusina, pictured here with his wife and two of his children, was deported to Samoa on Tuesday.

According to Nejad, the family thinks the incident in question was a class B misdemeanor assault charge from 2007, filed in 3rd District Court. What Nejad called a “bar scuffle” landed Manusina in front of an immigration judge for removal proceedings. At the time, the judge said the charge was minor enough that he wouldn’t be deported.

But once someone has been in removal proceedings, Nejad said, government officials can reopen closed cases and reconsider deportation. As to why Manusina’s case was brought back up, Nejad doesn’t know, but he said it’s “not uncommon.”

“I just don’t see the public policy benefit to anyone of removing this guy,” Nejad said.

A spokesman for ICE did not offer comment Friday afternoon. 

Unlike American Samoa — which is a U.S. territory — Samoa is an independent country.

Manusina has lived in the states for the past 15 years and has renewed his employment authorization card annually. He paid taxes and worked in a leadership position for for a local construction company, Nejad said.

“I think that it’s not just a tragedy for what is happening to them, but I think it’s not a good look for Utah, it’s not a good look for our country. I think we can do better,” Nejad said.

His wife, who served in the U.S. military for a year, can’t petition for a green card for her husband to return because she is from American Samoa, the one U.S. territory that doesn’t grant U.S. citizenship at birth. 

Manusina’s mother and sister are U.S. citizens. They can petition for Manusina’s citizenship, but because he is a married adult, the wait time for a visa can be years, Nejad said.

In the meantime, Nejad also will appeal to political figures who might be able to use their influence to expedite the visa process.

Since her husband had been the sole signer on all of their bank accounts, Sauelelee Manusina is working on getting power of attorney. Now that Aufanua Manusina is in Western Samoa, Nejad said, she hasn’t been able to get access to the money. Nejad has set up an online fundraising campaign to help the family.

“I have never felt this empty, and I wake up every morning hoping it was a nightmare,” Sauelelee Manusina said. “I am now a single parent.