American Samoa Governor Pleased By Supreme Court Decision On Citizenship Case

Attorney for plaintiffs: Decision ‘leaves us with the century old insulting and racist case law’

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, June 15, 2016) – Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga is “pleased” with the decision by the Supreme Court of United States which denied the petition for ‘writ of certiorari’ by five American Samoans in their US citizenship lawsuit, saying that the decision allows American Samoa to choose its own political relationship with the US government.

On the other hand, legal counsel Charles Ala’ilima, the locally based attorney for the plaintiffs, has voiced his disappointment over the court’s decision, which was released Monday without the court providing any other details.

However, the court’s decision will let stand the lower court decision and the appeals court ruling dismissing the lawsuit, which claims that, because plaintiffs were born in American Samoa, they are entitled to birthright US citizenship under the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.

The defendants, the US State Department, and its intervenors — the American Samoa Government and Congresswoman Aumua Amata — disagreed, arguing that only Congress has the authority to grant citizenship to outlying US territories such as American Samoa.

In a statement yesterday afternoon, the governor said he is pleased with the court’s decision, saying that this preserves individual rights of the people of American Samoa to make a personal decision on whether to become a US citizen or remain a US national.

“...this is the central thought which prompted the American Samoa Government’s intervention,” said Lolo adding that “becoming a US citizen was secondary to the need to preserve individual rights to freely determine to become a US citizen or remain a US national.”

Lolo stressed that American Samoans are not prohibited by law to become US citizens if they so choose and suggested that those who feel they are being discriminated against because of the US National designation on their passport “should become US citizens.”

The governor was also pleased with the decision because it gave “American Samoa the “latitude to determine for itself the political relationship it wishes to establish with the United States government.”

If the Supreme Court’s ruling imposed an automatic US citizenship on all persons born in American Samoa, Lolo says it “would have created political complications with a devastating impact on our land tenure system and usurpation of our rights to determine the political format we wish to adopt.”

He did say that those who sought to ascertain automatic US citizenship were exercising their individual rights guaranteed by the constitutions of American Samoa and the United States.

According to the governor, however, the existing process to become a US citizen should be changed to allow American Samoans who wish to become citizens to file and apply directly from American Samoa.

This would eliminate the waiting time before the application is considered and eliminate or reduce the passport fees to align with the existing fee schedule for other nationalities.

DISAPPOINTMENT

Responding to media inquiries, Ala’ilima said he is “disappointed the Supreme Court did not think this issue of citizenship by birth in American Samoa under the 14th Amendment to be worthy of review at this point in time, in order to — at the very least— give us a modern perspective on why American Samoan born people should stay in this non-citizen status.”

He said yesterday, “This leaves us with the century old insulting and racist case law that justified such second class status because Samoans were considered part of a group of ‘alien and savage races’ that would not understand the meaning of American law.”

Ala’ilima said it’s also important to note that the Supreme Court over the past two weeks issued two decisions involving Puerto Rico which clearly stated that none of the territorial governments ever had real sovereignty despite local constitutions and legislatures.

“All territorial governments are subject ultimately to the authority of Congress,” he said. “This means that despite all our American Samoa claims of self-government and customary rights in lands and in the oceans, we really do not control our government or our destiny either as full citizens of the United States or as Samoans.”

“We remain a 116 year old colony of the United States filled with non-citizens and controlled by a Congress where our delegate has no vote,” Ala’ilima added.

Asked for comments from lead plaintiff, local resident Leneuoti Tuaua, Ala’ilima responded, “I don't think we'll have comment available from Mr. Tuaua in the short term.”

On Monday, after the court decision was released, Neil Weare, who argued the case before the lower court, said they are “certainly disappointed” in the result of the Supreme Court decision and plans to issue a press statement soon.

By late Monday afternoon, Weare said in a second email message that “twice in the last week the Supreme Court has recognized the extremely broad powers the federal government has over U.S. territories.”

“It is disappointing... that the Court decided not to resolve whether those who are subject to this broad federal power have a right to citizenship,” he said.

The American Samoa government and Congresswoman Aumua Amata — who both participated as intervenors in the case — had argued that, among other things, the citizenship issue is a matter for the people of American Samoa to decide, not a federal court.

The Congresswoman said Monday that the “courts should not be used to get political results when the democratic political process does not produce the outcome we want.”

She also says that if and when the people of American Samoa express a desire to have U.S. citizenship, she will introduce legislation promptly. 

Meanwhile, she looks forward to consulting with American Samoans residing in the US states to see what can be done legislatively to speed the path towards citizenship of any who desire it.
 
The Samoa News
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