Am. Samoa Congressman Opposes Automatic Citizenship

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Eni Faleomavaega to file court brief in federal lawsuit

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Nov. 3, 2012) – Congressman Faleomavaega Eni confirmed his plans to file an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief, in the citizenship lawsuit before the federal court in Washington D.C. where the lead plaintiff in the suit is Leneuoti F. Tuaua, a local resident joined by five individuals and a Samoan organization based in California.

Named as defendants in the suit filed July this year, are Hillary Rodham Clinton, in her capacity as U.S. Secretary of State, the State Department, and Janice L. Jacobs, in her official capacity as Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs.

Faleomavaega’s amicus curiae brief is to be filed next week by the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis. "I am pleased that they have agreed to work with my office in developing the amicus curiae brief on a pro bono basis," Faleomavaega said yesterday in a news release.

"As the delegate from American Samoa in Congress, it is my responsibility to advocate for our people and I am pleased to have the opportunity to help the federal district court decide this important issue for the Territory," said Faleomavaega, who has publicly opposed the citizenship lawsuit.

"By filing an amicus curiae brief in the...lawsuit, I will be able to inform the Court about the potential harmful consequences that could result for the Samoan culture if persons born in American Samoa automatically become U.S. citizens," he said.

He said the lawsuit has the potential to result in the application of the equal protection clause to American Samoa. "If the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution is applied in American Samoa, laws that provide only for persons of Samoan blood like our communal land and our matai title laws could be invalidated and ruled impermissible as race-based discrimination," he said.

He explained that the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 4) "expressly reserves" the power to make rules of naturalization to Congress. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are requesting the court to interpret the Constitution to make persons born in American Samoa automatic U.S. citizens.

"By using the court system to gain citizenship, it is impossible to know what impact the decision will have on the Samoan culture," he said. "However, by using the political process to gain citizenship, American Samoans can ensure that our culture and traditions are preserved."

All other U.S. territories have used the political process to gain citizenship, and have been able to preserve their traditional cultures, he pointed out.

"The question of citizenship for persons born in American Samoa should be decided by the people of American Samoa, not by a federal court 6000 miles away. I hope that through this amicus brief, the Court will hear the voice of many Samoans who fear the demise of our 2000 year old culture if the Court decides to grant automatic citizenship to all persons born in American Samoa," he added.

The suit is filed by the Washington D.C. based think tank group Constitutional Accountability Center while the local attorney is Charles Alailima, who said in late July that their "legal challenge is only asking whether Congress can deny citizenship to people born in American Samoa."

"That question is answered by the Citizenship Clause of the U.S. Constitution as the court interprets it, not by a vote," said Alailima. "We only ask the court to determine if people born in American Samoa are US citizens.

Meanwhile, the State Department has again requested the federal court in Washington D.C. to allow additional time to respond to the citizenship lawsuit, and this time the federal agency says the additional time is needed because of the interruption of federal business caused by Hurricane Sandy, which has caused havoc on the east cost of the U.S. mainland since Monday.

Following a second request, the federal court granted the defendants’ motion to file a reply by Oct. 31, but on the same day, the defendants’ attorney, Assistant U.S. Attorney Wynne P. Kelly, filed a third motion for extension of time to respond to the complaint.

Since being served with the complaint, Kelly "has worked diligently" with State Department attorneys to analyze plaintiffs’ claims, according to the motion.

However, the defense attorney's ability to complete defendants’ response, as well as conference with the State Department, "was severely set back by Hurricane Sandy," according to the motion.

So in the interests of the parties involved and the court’s resources, the motion requests Nov. 7 as the deadline to respond to the complaint.

"Plaintiffs will not be prejudiced by this extension and have consented" to this request, it says.

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