American Samoa culture plays role in US citizenship ruling

Of interest given intersection with Indigenous-like issues:

In a decision citing American Samoa cultural traditions, those born in the U.S. territory shouldn’t have citizenship automatically forced on them, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling reverses a lower court ruling that sided with three people from American Samoa who live in Utah and sued to be recognized as citizens. The judge ruled the Utah residents are entitled to birthright citizenship under the 14th Amendment. He then put his ruling on hold pending appeal.

U.S. Congress should play a bigger role than the courts in deciding citizenship for those in territories, the appeals court ruling said.

American Samoa is the only unincorporated territory of the United States where the inhabitants are not American citizens at birth.

Instead, those born in the cluster of islands some 2,600 miles (4,184 kilometers) southwest of Hawaii are granted “U.S. national” status, meaning they can’t vote for U.S. president, run for office outside American Samoa or apply for certain jobs. The only federal election they can cast a vote in is the race for American Samoa’s nonvoting U.S. House seat.

The ruling notes that American Samoa government leaders and others opposed the lawsuit because they are concerned automatic citizenship could disrupt cultural traditions, such as communal land ownership and social structures organized around large, extended families led by matai, those with hereditary chieftain titles.

“There is simply insufficient caselaw to conclude with certainty that citizenship will have no effect on the legal status of the fa’a Samoa,” or the American Samoan way of life, the ruling said. “The constitutional issues that would arise in the context of America Samoa’s unique culture and social structure would be unusual, if not entirely novel, and therefore unpredictable.”

Drawing on the views of the American Samoa people is one of the more gratifying aspects of the ruling, said Michael Williams, an attorney representing the American Samoa government, which intervened to oppose the lawsuit.

“It is also vindication for the principle that the people of American Samoa should determine their own status in accordance with Samoan culture and traditions,” he said.

A path toward U.S. citizenship exists for those who want it. But some say it’s costly and cumbersome. Non-citizen nationals of American Samoa are entitled to work and travel freely in the United States and receive certain advantages in the naturalization process.

Neil Weare, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said they are disappointed by the ruling, and are reviewing next steps. Options include asking a wider panel of appeals court judges to hear the case or taking it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Weare is president of Equally American, which advocates for equality and civil rights for people in U.S. territories.

He said he was impressed with a dissenting judge’s opinion.

”When the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, courts, dictionaries, maps, and censuses uniformly regarded territories as land ‘in the United States,’” wrote Judge Robert E. Bacharach in his dissent.

Self-determination is a highly valued principle in American Samoa, said Line-Noue Memea Kruse, adjunct faculty in Pacific islands studies at Brigham Young University-Hawaii and whose book is cited in the ruling.

“There are many foreign interests looming over these citizenship cases,” she said. “This is not the end. They will keep pushing. This to me is a form of inter-territorial hegemony.”

Source: American Samoa culture plays role in US citizenship ruling

Hearing on birthright citizenship in U.S. territories Wednesday

Decision and rationale will be interesting:

Arguments will be heard Wednesday in an ongoing birthright citizenship case being appealed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

Lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice will argue in the appeals court to reverse a ruling in Fitisemanu v. United States, which recognized that individuals born in U.S. territories have the same right to citizenship as those born in the 50 states or the District of Columbia, a release from Equally American stated.

Lead plaintiff John Fitisemanu was born in American Samoa – a U.S. territory since 1900.  For the last 20 years he has been a taxpaying, U.S. passport holding resident of Utah. However, based on a discriminatory federal law, he is labeled a “national, but not a citizen, of the United States.”

In December, a district court recognized that he is a natural-born U.S. citizen. The next day, Fitisemanu registered to vote. But because the district court later stayed its ruling pending appeal, Fitisemanu will be unable to vote in November unless the district court’s ruling is affirmed by the 10th Circuit.

“With an important election around the corner, I am hopeful the 10th Circuit will act quickly so that I will finally be able to vote,” Fitisemanu said in advance of the argument. “All my life I’ve met my obligations as an American, it is time I’m able to exercise my rights as a citizen.”

Source: Hearing on birthright citizenship in U.S. territories Wednesday

The US Supreme Court needs to settle birthright citizenship.

One to watch given the current political climate:

Soon, the Supreme Court will decide whether to take a case of astounding constitutional importance. Its outcome could alter the rules governing citizenship, equal protection, and the power of the federal government. And it centers around a tiny chain of islands that you probably cannot find on a map.

The question: Can Congress decide that an entire group of Americans—born in America, raised in America, allegiant to America—does not deserve United States citizenship?

American Samoans, the group in question, have been Americans since 1900, when the United States acquired their territory in the midst of an imperialist expansion. Since then, residents of America’s other territories have either achieved independence or gained U.S. citizenship. But in 2016, American Samoans stand alone: Unlike people born in, say, Puerto Rico or Guam, they are not granted citizenship at birth. Instead, they are considered “noncitizen nationals,” a legally dubious term that effectively renders them stateless, a mark of second-class status imprinted on their (American) passports.

Is all of this constitutional? No, it is not. And that’s why a group of American Samoans are asking the Supreme Court to invalidate the status quo and extend citizenship to all those born in the territory. Their lawsuit arrives at a peculiar cultural moment, in the midst of an election that has thrown the definition of birthright citizenship into political (if not legal) controversy, with Republicans such as Donald Trump challenging its constitutional legitimacy. If the justices take the case, they’ll have the opportunity to definitely settle the matter of U.S. citizenship. If they do not, they’ll allow this unfortunate debate to rage on—and permit American Samoans to suffer citizenship discrimination indefinitely.

The story of birthright citizenship in the United States is, in large part, the story of the Civil War. In Dred Scott v. Sandford, the Supreme Court decision that arguably rendered a war inevitable, the justices found that black people, even those born in the U.S., were not citizens. Rather, the court held, black people were “a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant race … and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them.”

After the Civil War, Congress and the states overruled Dred Scott by passing the 14th Amendment, whose very first sentence explicitly granted birthright citizenship to “[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” This clause was originally designed to give birthright citizenship to formerly enslaved people and their children. But, as the Supreme Court confirmed in a later ruling, it also promised citizenship to anyone born in America. (The only exceptions were the children of diplomats and certain Indian tribes that were then quasi-sovereign.)

Source: The Supreme Court needs to settle birthright citizenship.