U.S. Samoan group backs plaintiffs in citizenship case
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The Samoan Federation of America contends that American Samoa leaders’ concerns raised over the impact of birthright citizenship for people born in American Samoa “are misplaced”, arguing that the US Constitution provides an individual’s right to be a US citizen and is “not subject to the views of elected officials.”
The Carson, California-based non-profit organization made the claims in its “amicus curiae” brief filed last week in support of the plaintiffs — three American Samoans residing in Utah, in the citizenship case on appeal at the US Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The defendants — the US State Department and its senior officials and Intervenors — American Samoa Government and Congresswoman Aumua Amata — in April this year appealed the federal court in Salt Lake City, Utah decision, siding with the plaintiffs that “Persons born in American Samoa are citizens of the United States by virtue of the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
The Samoan Federation is of the opinion that persons born in American Samoa when the U.S took possession of the islands in 1900 are US citizens under the US Constitution and not given the federal government’s legal status label of “non-citizen national”.
The historical record is clear that this second-class status was motivated by racial animus towards the native-born inhabitants of American Samoa and other overseas territories,” the federation argued.
Despite, this “second-class status, American Samoans have remained loyal and patriotic Americans who have never wavered in their desire to remain part of the United States,” the federation says.
“Despite the long history of American Samoan support for recognition as U.S. citizens, elected officials in American Samoa today have opposed recognizing citizenship as a right for people born in American Samoa, arguing instead that citizenship should be a privilege subject to congressional approval,” according to the federation.
And concerns that birthright citizenship “presents a threat to American Samoan self-determination or cultural preservation are misplaced,” the federation argued. And the question of self-determination for the American Samoan people to decide is whether to be a part of the United States, “a question that continues to be answered in the affirmative.”
“So long as the United States flag flies over American Samoa, the U.S. Constitution provides an individual right to be recognized as a citizen that is not subject to the views of elected officials,” the federation states.
“To the extent American Samoa’s land ownership rules or cultural protections raise constitutional concerns, these concerns exist separate and apart from whether American Samoans are recognized as citizens or non-citizen nationals,” it says.
The federation, which was established in 1969, was a plaintiff in an identical citizenship lawsuit against the US State Department more than four years ago at the federal court in Washington D.C. in which local resident Leneuoti Tuaua was the lead plaintiff.
(Samoa News notes the D.C. court dismissed that lawsuit and was upheld on appeal.)
The organization argued then, and again this time, that people born in American Samoa have an individual constitutional right to citizenship that does not require legislative approval by Congress or any other elected officials.
The federation — which serves to advance the cultural, economic, and social well-being of the Samoan community in the greater Los Angeles area and across the United States — “believes that recognition of citizenship is critical to the political and economic empowerment of American Samoan communities throughout the US.”
“Discriminatory federal laws that require American Samoans to naturalize to be recognized as U.S. citizens create significant barriers to the political participation of American Samoans living in Utah and other states, in effect serving as a poll tax, literacy test, voter identification requirement, and felon disenfranchisement provision all rolled into one,” the federation alleges.
Furthermore, federal, state, and local laws that restrict certain employment opportunities to U.S. citizens also make it harder for many American Samoans to provide for themselves and their families and diminish their standing in their communities — across the US.
In conclusion, the federation claims that in1900, American Samoa’s leaders believed that by transferring sovereignty to the United States, they would earn the right to be recognized as U.S. citizens.
“They were correct then, and they remain correct today,” according to the federation, which argued that affirming the lower court’s summary judgment for the plaintiffs “will confirm for American Samoans the long-overdue recognition that they are the equals of all others born within the United States, as the Fourteenth Amendment requires.”