U.S. Citizenship For Am. Samoans Could Jeopardize Traditional Way Of Life

Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i


By Steve Limtiaco

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Sept. 4, 2014) – Several residents of American Samoa have argued in federal court that those born in the territory should automatically be granted U.S. citizenship, but the American Samoa government and its congressional delegate disagree.

Tradition, land ownership

Giving birthright citizenship to American Samoa would jeopardize the traditional way of life in the territory, including the communal land system and exclusive land ownership rights by those of Samoan ancestry, the territorial government and Congressman Eni F.H. Faleomavaega stated in federal court documents.

Local laws and practices

U.S. citizenship would bring greater scrutiny of the rights of citizens, under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, they argued, and possibly end local laws and practices that favor indigenous Samoans and traditions.

Former Guam resident Neil Weare, president of the We the People Project, last year filed a lawsuit in the federal court in Washington, D.C., on behalf of a man in American Samoa, where residents are considered U.S. nationals, but unlike Guam residents, are not U.S. citizens. According to Weare, American Samoa's status is much like Guam's status before the Organic Act.

It's hoped that having the federal courts clarify the citizenship rights of the 4.7 million people living in the territories also will help clarify the constitutional relationship between the United States and its territories, according to Weare.

Full representation

One of the goals of the legal battle is to obtain full representation in Congress, where Guam currently has a non-voting delegate.

A federal court threw out the American Samoa citizenship case, but Weare appealed, and the circuit court ruled some of the issues in the case could move forward.

The U.S. State Department last month filed its brief in the appeal, also challenging the idea that U.S. citizenship follows the U.S. flag.

Whether residents of the territories are birthright citizens is a matter for Congress to decide, federal attorneys argued.

CNMI cautionary tale

To support its claim that U.S. citizenship could put their traditions at risk, the American Samoa government noted that a federal court in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, which has birthright U.S. citizenship, recently struck down local laws that allow only indigenous residents, Chamorros and Carolinians, to change the CNMI constitution.

No consensus

"Although the people of American Samoa are proud of their relationship with the United States, they have never come to a consensus about whether they should ask for Congress to grant them citizenship at birth," the brief by the American Samoa government states.

A reply brief by the American Samoa residents who are seeking birthright citizenship is scheduled to be filed Sept. 8 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment