Pacific News Minute: Supreme Court Declines to Rule on Citizenship Rights for American Samoa

Jun 21, 2016

Credit Wikipedia Commons

Part of the immigration debate this election year has been a proposal to eliminate the right of any child born in the US to automatic citizenship. Birthright citizenship applies in all fifty states and every US territory, except American Samoa.  Last week, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case that might have changed that... We have more from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.

American Samoans get special US passports, which identify them as non-citizen US nationals. They can't vote in federal elections or hold jobs that require citizenship. They can serve in the US military...and three of the five American Samoans who brought this suit are veterans. In a statement, lead plaintiff Leneuoti Tuaua said, "As someone born on US soil who signed up for the draft during the Vietnam War, my family should not be treated as second class Americans."

By declining to hear the case, the Supreme Court effectively upheld a unanimous decision reached by the US District Court in Washington DC a year ago. That ruling cited laws and Supreme Court decisions that date back to the early 1900s which distinguished between territories deemed likely to become states... Hawaii and Alaska, which got full citizenship rights...and other US possessions, like Puerto Rico and Guam, which only got those rights after Congress passed specific legislation.  The ruling also noted that the government of American Samoa opposed the suit.

Welcoming the decision, Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga told the Samoa News that it preserves the territory's "latitude to determine for itself the political relationship it wishes to establish with the United States." Aumua Amata, The territory's non-voting representative in Congress also opposed the suit and said birthright citizenship should be decided by the people and not a federal court.