Friday, December 13, 2019

Judge rules American Samoans are birthright citizens, merit passports [UPDATE 12/14/2019]

UPDATE 12/14/2019 After ruling on Thursday that anyone born in American Samoa should be recognized as a U.S. citizen, the same judge — U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups — on Friday decided to put the order on hold until the issue is resolved on appeal.

A federal judge in Utah said that American Samoans are birthright citizens and should be granted US passports. In the opinion Fitesmanu v. US, the court held: "This 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." 

American Samoa, a group of islands in the Pacific with a population of about 55,000, is a U.S. territory, and American Samoans are currently considered “non-citizen nationals” of the U.S. This means that in the 50 states, they cannot vote or run for office, can’t serve on juries, and are not eligible for certain government jobs. American Samoa is the only overseas U.S. territory where people are not granted birthright citizenship. The federal government has already granted citizenship by statute to the people of other territories, such as Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands.

There is likely to be ongoing contestation. In a similar case in 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against five American Samoan plaintiffs, saying the 14th Amendment did not automatically apply to such territories. 

For additional context on the underlying dispute and its implications for birthright citizenship, see the scholarship and writings of Rose Cuission Villazor. For counterperspective, see writings of John Eastman at Chapman University and the Claremont Institute.


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