American Samoa Residents Are Declared US Citizens

American Samoa

American Samoa

A few political changes in the Pacific have taken place recently: the island of Bougainville voted for independence from Papua New Guinea, and the residents of the US territory of American Samoa either were declared to be US citizens, or appear to be on track to be declared US citizens. Up until now, they are the only US territory whose residents are US nationals, but not US citizens.

Everyone born in the states and DC is a US citizen as per the 14th amendment, and everyone born in the territories of Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico is a US citizen by unilateral declaration of the US Congress–at least that has been the opinion help up until now. The decision by a court in Utah contradicts the currently held doctrine that residents of the other four territories are not US citizens by virtue of the 14th Amendment, that they are instead citizens by congressional mandate. It also reaffirms the claims of many Puerto Rican statehooders who have been arguing for years that, under unincorporated territorial status, people from the territories are constantly subjected to biased, discriminatory, and arbitrary judicial decisions and policies whose logic is difficult to ascertain or justify.

Congress has the power to grant citizenship to the people of the territories. Courts do not–as far as I know–have that power. For this reason, the decision claims thatThis court is not imposing citizenship by judicial fiat. The action is required by the mandate of the Fourteenth Amendment as construed and applied by Supreme Court precedent.”

The 14th Amendment of the US Constitution establishes birthright citizenship. KSL reported the news as if Samoan US citizenship was a done deal, AND invokes the 14th Amendment. The Utah court established (for the first time, as far as I’m aware) that the 14th Amendment applies to people born in the territories:

People born in American Samoa are U.S. citizens, a federal judge in Utah ruled Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups’ declaration came in a 69-page decision in a lawsuit filed last year on behalf of three American Samoans in Utah. John Fitisemanu, Pale Tuli and Rosavita Tuli sued the government to be treated as U.S. citizens under the 14th Amendment.

Waddoups agreed, writing, “Any State Department policy that provides that the citizenship provisions of the Constitution do not apply to persons born in American Samoa violates the 14th Amendment.”

The judge barred the government from enforcing any rule that says the citizenship provisions of the Constitution do not apply to people born in American Samoa.

In recent months, there was an ISIS terrorist wives fiasco. Women who had escaped to Syria to marry and bear children from terrorists were trying to re-enter the US and the UK. We learned then that international law forbids the existence of stateless persons, which complicated the controversy. For that reason, it is interesting that this non-citizen-US.-national status has existed while the international community looked the other way for about 120 years, and at least one Mother Jones article called out the racism inherent in American Samoans’ citizenship status.

Residents of American Samoa have obviously not been citizens of the independent country of Samoa all these years, and they haven’t been citizens of the US. They have been merely “US Nationals” with no complete citizenship that is recognized internationally, since American Samoa is not a sovereign country. When given the opportunity to gain citizenship, elders of the very traditional island territory decided against becoming US citizens because US citizenship comes with certain constitutional guarantees, including the right to private property–and these clash with Samoan traditional society’s rules concerning collective land ownership by the clans and tribes.

If this decision is appealed (as is expected) and stands, it could be argued that American Samoa will have been given US citizenship against the consent of the governed, triggered in part by litigative activism by mainland Samoans.

However, to be frank, almost all the US territories were given citizenship with no regard for the consent of the governed.

About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' (Humanist Press, 2014), 'How to Live a Good Life' (Penguin Random House, 2020), and Epicurus of Samos – His Philosophy and Life: All the principal Classical texts Compiled and Introduced by Hiram Crespo (Ukemi Audiobooks, 2020). He's the founder of, and has written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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