Friday, June 28, 2013

American Samoa's US Citizenship Claim Denied

Federal judge dismisses American Samoans' birthright citizenship claim

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Friday, June 28, 2013
Max Slater at 11:19 AM ET

A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Wednesday dismissed [opinion, PDF] a lawsuit filed by five residents of American Samoa who claimed that the Fourteenth Amendment [text] guarantees them US citizenship at birth. Although American Samoans are considered US nationals, American Samoa is the only US territory where birthright citizenship is not granted [AP report]. 

The plaintiffs argued that the Fourteenth Amendment's citizenship clause, which declares, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside," should grant them US citizenship. However, Judge Richard Leon disagreed, saying that the citizenship clause does not apply to unincorporated territories, such as American Samoa:
  • Federal courts have held over and over again that unincorporated territories are not included within the citizenship clause, and this court sees no reason to do otherwise. ... To date, Congress has not seen fit to bestow birthright citizenship upon American Samoa, and in accordance with the law, this court must and will respect that choice.The plaintiffs plan to appeal the ruling.

The plaintiffs filed their citizenship lawsuit [JURIST report] last July. Over the last century Congress has granted citizenship rights to Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. In 2011 JURIST Guest Columnist Edsel Tupaz [official profile] wrote about several areas of the international law of the seas [JURIST comment] and complex issues of multilateral diplomacy that must be dealt with in order to resolve the dispute, noting that American Samoa's delegate to the US House of Representatives had introduced House Resolution 352 [text] calling for "a peaceful and collaborative resolution to maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea and other maritime areas adjacent to the East Asian mainland." 

In July 2010 American Samoa concluded a constitutional convention that approved several amendments to the territory's 1967 constitution [JURIST report]. The amendments removed much of the authority of the US Department of the Interior (DOI) in the country and shifted that power to local officials. Some of the specific changes approved by the convention included removing the DOI's ability to override vetoes of the American Samoan governor and removing the DOI's ability to reject amendments to the territory's constitution. American Samoa has been a US territory since 1900.