CONGRESSMAN: LET AMERICAN SAMOA DECIDE CITIZENSHIP

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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, 19) - Congressman Faleomavaega Eni continues to maintain that voters in American Samoa should decide whether or not persons born in the territory should automatically become U.S. citizens.

A measure pending in the U.S. House directs the Secretary of Interior to place on the 2008 ballot three questions: 1) should persons born in American Samoa become U.S. citizens? 2) should Senators be elected by their respective districts? and 3) should a federal court with limited jurisdiction be established in American Samoa?

Senate President Lolo M. Moliga told senators on Friday that he has been informed by the Congressman of his plan to table this measure and he is pleased with Faleomavaega's action, allowing these issues to be handled locally instead of by Congress.

Speaking on a tape-recorded program aired on KVZK-TV Friday night, Faleomavaega maintained that the issue of U.S. citizenship should be given to the voters to decide upon.

Persons born in American Samoa are U.S. nationals, but Faleomavaega said there are cities throughout the country that do not know or recognize this status, except for U.S. permanent residents, under the green-card program.

According to the congressman, misinformation has circulated in recent years, alleging that giving American Samoans citizenship would later result in the loss of local land and chiefly titles.

Faleomavaega said he is not quite sure how people came up with such a false opinion, adding that American Samoa is slowly losing control of its land by families selling land, making the land "individually owned".

He said that the first time the citizenship issue was raised in Congress for American Samoa was back in the 1950s, but local leadership preferred its U.S. National status.

If American Samoans want U.S. citizenship status, similar to that of persons born in Guam and CNMI, Faleomavaega said this can be easily done via federal legislation and he believes there is currently enough support in Congress to pass such a measure.

Many residents believe the citizenship issue should be put to a local referendum and have voters make the final decision.

Governor Togiola is expected to call a Constitutional Convention next year, and the issue of citizenship is expected to be part of the agenda.

Togiola told Samoa News in March that he thinks "we eventually will want people born in American Samoa to be U.S. citizens."

"For now, however, we need to consider this, along with appropriate recommendations that we will make in regard to our political status. We need to complete the process and see where it takes us before we can make any commitments one way or the other," he said.

Part of the process includes the Future Political Status Study Commission report on the options American Samoa has for possible future forms of government, he said.

The report has been completed and publicly released and it recommends that "American Samoa not seek U.S. citizenship for its people at this time."

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