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New filing in American Samoan citizenship case

A new brief by former delegates and Governors in four different U.S. territories has been filed in the case for U.S. citizenship brought by three American Samoans living in the state of Utah.

The brief was submitted by former delegates to the U.S. House of Representatives from Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (C.N.M.I.), Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands – and former Governors of the four territories, reports local media, Samoa News.

It supports the case of the three plaintiffs whose case has been appealed in a federal court in Salt Lake City, Utah.

An “Amici Curiae” (friends of the court) brief is a submission to a court that sets out a legal position. It is a submission the court allows someone who is not directly involved in the action.

The brief was filed Thursday (Samoa Time) at the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals based in Denver, Colorado, according to Samoa News.

The newest filing in the Utahns’ case states that while they are respectful of American Samoa’s leaders, granting U.S. citizenship to persons born in American Samoa — who are currently considered U.S. nationals —  will not imperil the Samoan culture nor will it alter American Samoa’s legal regime.

In a 12 Dec., 2019 decision U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups of the federal district court in Salt Lake City ruled that “persons born in American Samoa are citizens of the United States by virtue of the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The Appeals Court “should affirm” Waddoups’ decision “and recognize that those born in American Samoa, Guam, CNMI, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands — are birthright citizens under the Fourteenth Amendment,” the Amici Curiae brief states.

“Reversing the district court’s decision would not only affect American Samoans but also imperil the U.S. citizenship, with all its attendant rights, of the people born in the other four Territories,” the brief continues.

The defendants — the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Secretary of State and other senior officials — and the Intervenors — the American Samoa Government and Congresswoman Aumua Amata — appealed Waddoups’ decision and asked that the lower court’s decision be overturned.

The Amici argued that withholding citizenship from the plaintiffs — who are “Americans... adopts a remarkable view of the Constitution that would reverberate well beyond American Samoa.” 

There are millions of U.S. citizens born in Guam, CNMI, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the brief.

Further, the Amici argues that if American Samoa is not “in the United States” for purposes of the Citizenship Clause, then neither is Guam, CNMI, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“And if those Territories are not “in the United States,” then the millions of citizens born there are truly second-class citizens,” the Amici points out. “They would be citizens at the pleasure of Congress only, a status that could be revoked at the whim of a temporary legislative majority.”

“This shocking and un-American possibility finds no support in the Constitution,” they further argued.  

“Indeed, the U.S. government’s interpretation rests on the absurd premise that Territories that have long been part of the United States — in some cases for much more than a century — are not really “in the United States.”

As Plaintiffs explain, that premise and the reading of the Constitution that flow from it are wrong, the Amici state.

“And while Amici have great respect for American Samoa and its support for cultural preservation and self-determination, the specific concerns it raises over citizenship are misplaced,” the brief said.

“Moreover, American Samoa’s leaders do not hold a veto over the constitutional rights of the inhabitants of all the Territories,” according to the Amici, who made clear to the appeal’s court that the futures of the U.S. citizens in Guam, the NMI, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands “are very much at stake in this appeal.”

And because the US Supreme Court has made clear that citizenship resulting from legislative grace is not entitled to the same protections as Fourteenth Amendment birthright citizenship, reversing the district court’s decision would not only impact American Samoans but also destabilize the U.S. citizenship enjoyed by the people of Guam, the NMI, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

*Source: Samoa News



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