Am. Samoa Leaders Agree ‘In Principle’ To Citizenship Referendum

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Vote may preempt suit that seeks to apply Citizenship Clause to territory

PAGO PAGO, America Samoa (Samoa News, Oct 16, 2013) — American Samoa’s top political leaders have "agreed in principle" for a referendum that will have voters in the territory decide the issue of U.S. citizenship for persons born on American Samoa soil while Congressman Faleomavaega Eni will withdraw a provision in two pieces of congressional legislation directing the territory to carry out a plebiscite on the citizenship issue.

This was revealed in an Oct. 9 letter from Congressman Faleomavaega Eni to Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga, which was a follow-up to a meeting held in the territory last month between the Congressman, the governor, Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie and House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale.

The letter reveals that the leaders have serious concerns with the citizenship lawsuit—brought on by five American Samoans and a California based Samoan organization—now pending before the federal court of appeals in Washington D.C.

According to Faleomavaega’s letter, the meeting discussed the "potential implications" of the lawsuit, which he says if successful, would apply the U.S. Citizenship Clause of the U.S. Constitution to American Samoa and "potentially yield unpredictable consequences for our traditional culture and communal land laws."

Faleomavaega reiterates in his letter his position since the citizenship suit was filed last year; and that is, a decision to apply birthright citizenship to American Samoa should not come from a federal court but instead, from the people of American Samoa by way of a plebiscite and the U.S. Congress.

"I am pleased that in our recent meeting we agreed in principle that a referendum or plebiscite on the issue of citizenship should be determined first by the people of our Territory, and if a majority of the people agree, then the matter will be considered by Congress as required under federal law and the U.S. Constitution," Faleomavaega wrote to the governor.

As a matter of background information, the congressman pointed out that "birthright citizenship has been a critical issue that has never been formally addressed" in the territory’s 113-year relationship with the United States.

And for 113 years now, American Samoans have had "U.S. National status"; a term defined under the federal Immigration and Nationality Act to include persons who, though not U.S. citizens, owe permanent allegiance to the U.S.

Faleomavaega pointed out that persons born in all the other U.S. territories are U.S citizens by birth.

These other U.S. territories— U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands— were granted U.S. citizenship by acts of Congress based on their own unique relationships with the U.S., he said.

"Not one of these territories had their citizenship decided by a court ruling, as will be the case for American Samoa" if the case pending in federal appellate court is successful," Faleomavaega added.

He continued by saying that if American Samoa votes in favor of granting U.S. citizenship in a referendum that will be established under local law, "I will then work with my colleagues in Congress to pass federal legislation to authorize citizenship for our people."

Faleomavaega also revealed that the local political leaders agreed during the recent meeting that he would withdraw the specific section requiring a plebiscite in American Samoa on citizenship in the Territorial Omnibus legislation, which was introduced in Congress a couple of months ago.

"I look forward to working with your Administration and our Fono to authorize by local law a referendum at next year’s general election," he concluded.

Copies of the letter were sent to Lt. Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga, Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie and House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale.

Responding to Samoa News inquiries, the governor’s executive assistant Iulogologo J. Pereira said Lolo has received the letter and is in the process of issuing a reply.

It’s not immediately clear at this point if the governor or the Fono will facilitate the placement of the referendum or plebiscite in the 2014 elections through appropriate proposed legislation.

Lolo told Samoa News earlier this year in May that American Samoans are not prohibited from seeking US Citizenship if they so desire.

"I believe the choice should be left to each individual whether he/she wishes to become a US Citizen," the governor said. "...the decision should be made individually and it respects individual rights to decide for one’s self the status he or she wants."

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