Am. Samoa Governor Favors Citizenship Legislation

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Lolo recommends allowing people to decide for themselves

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Oct. 17, 2013) – Instead of a plebiscite to decide the U.S. citizenship issue for persons born in American Samoa, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has suggested federal legislation to make it easy for U.S. nationals to apply for citizenship, if a person wishes to do so.

This was Lolo’s response to Congressman Faleomavaega Eni’s letter of Oct. 9 to the governor and the Fono leaders as a follow up to a meeting held last month in the territory among the political leaders. The issue of discussion was the citizenship lawsuit now before the federal appeal’s court in Washington D.C.

Faleomavaega revealed in his letter that the leaders have "agreed in principle" on a referendum that will allow voters in the territory to decide the issue of U.S. citizenship for persons born on American Samoa soil.

In response, Lolo said in an Oct. 15 letter that he appreciates the Congressman’s "sensitivity to our concerns relating to the impact of carte blanche conferment of U.S. Citizenship on all American Samoans... with regard to latent negative effect on our land tenure system and subsequently on our culture and our way of life."

Moreover, Lolo agreed with Faleomavaega that the reversal of the lower court’s decision by the appeal’s court "effectively preempts our birthright" to decide whether to became U.S. citizens.

"This basic freedom is the cornerstone of our democracy which has made the United States the envy of the world," he said. "It is the same precept that is very unsettling to me respecting the proposal to conduct a plebiscite."

"While democracy will be practiced by utilizing the plebiscite avenue, the ‘majority rule’ principle effectively robs those who wish to maintain status quo and in essence usurps their birthright to decided for themselves," he said.

The governor then shared his "preference" on this issue by having appropriate legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress "eliminating the standard requirements to become a U.S. citizen" for U.S. Nationals residing in the states or in American Samoa. Additionally, nationals living on any island of American Samoa "should not be required to travel to the mainland to apply for U.S. Citizenship."

"This approach will guarantee the preservation and protection of the individual’s birthright to decide for himself or herself, whether or not to become a U.S. citizen," Lolo wrote. "It also eliminates potential negative impact on our land tenure system, our culture and our way of life."

Early this year, Faleomavaega wrote to local leaders seeking suggestions and recommendations on four proposed pieces of federal legislation that he plans to introduce into the U.S. House for inclusion into the broader federal immigration reform. One of the proposals would allow American Samoans to apply directly for citizenship from the territory.

Lolo told Samoa News in May this year, that as long as local American Samoans elect to become U.S. citizens, "I welcome any effort to make it easier for local residents to apply for U.S. citizenship from the territory."

In his letter this week, Lolo agreed with Faleomavaega that "we must address our relationship" with the United States, adding that the last Constitutional Convention referenced this need "although the status quo was the choice relating to the question on political status."

Noting that American Samoa is the only U.S. territory operating without an Organic Act, the governor said, "I harbor the humble opinion that we should not wait until another political status convention is called" to address this issue.

"It is my recommendation that changes to our Constitution should be addressed and the Legislature should introduce legislation to facilitate placement of these recommended issues in a referendum in the next general election," he said.

Lolo then thanked Faleomavaega for taking steps to remove the section requiring a plebiscite on citizenship in American Samoa contained within the Territorial Omnibus legislation, which was introduced in Congress a couple of months ago.

"I don’t know how the Legislative leadership feels with my recommended option. One thing that is certain is that we need to spend more time discussing this and other issues of importance to the lives of our people," he concluded.

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

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