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“The language of the Constitution is clear” say proponents of citizenship for A.S.

The local attorney for plaintiffs in the citizenship lawsuit pending before the federal court in Washington D.C. says there is “no merit” in the U.S. State Department’s argument that American Samoa is not part of the “United States” for the purposes of the Citizenship Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Charles V. Alailima responded last week to the State Department’s call for the federal court to dismiss the lawsuit as well as Congressman Faleomavaega Eni’s amicus curiae brief supporting the defense’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, which had been brought by lead plaintiff Leneuoti Taua and others born in American Samoa along with the California based Samoan Federation of America.

Assistant U.S. Attorney, Wynne P. Kelly, representing the defendants, had argued in court documents that the heart of the plaintiffs’ complaint is an attempt to sidestep Congress’ proper exercise of its constitutionally enumerated power to determine the naturalization process for potential citizens in favor of a judicial fiat declaring an entire class of persons citizens of the U.S.

Additionally, the Citizenship Claus does not apply to unincorporated territories of the U.S. such as American Samoa. (See Samoa News story, Nov. 8 edition for more details on the State Department’s reply)

The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of federal laws that deny U.S. citizenship to persons born in American Samoa.

“While the government’s opposition to my clients’ lawsuit is predictable, the argument that... American Samoa is not part of ‘the United States’ for purposes of the Citizenship Clause has no merit whatsoever,” Alailima said in a media statement.

“The language of the Constitution is clear.  ‘All persons born . . . in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States . . . .’  Who can deny that American Samoa is part of the United States?

Even Congressman Faleomavaega [Eni] recognizes on page 3 of his brief that ‘American Samoa has been part of the United States since 1900’,” he said.

Tuaua added, “I am offended by the government’s position that they have the power to deny us citizenship even though we were born in the United States. The Constitution says we are citizens — no ifs, ands, or buts.”

As to Faleomavaega’s brief, Alailima said he is “disappointed” that Faleomavaega,  a U.S. Congressman and trained attorney, is speaking out against the individual right to citizenship protected by the U.S. Constitution.

“After all, the primary purpose of the Citizenship Clause was so that the question of citizenship by birth within the United States would be answered by the Constitution, not Congress,” Ala’ilima said.

“The question of self-determination for the American Samoan people is whether or not to be a part of the United States. That question has nothing to do with whether the Constitution guarantees an individual right to citizenship as long as American Samoa is a part of the United States,” he said.

According to the local attorney, Falomavaega also left out some important history in his brief. For example, when American Samoa’s traditional leaders signed the Deeds of Cession, “they believed that citizenship was part of the deal.”

“Upon being told otherwise some twenty years later by the U.S. Navy, our leaders worked passionately to be recognized as full U.S. citizens,” he claimed. “They believed it was possible to be recognized as citizens while at the same time preserving Samoan culture.”

Tuaua was not pleased with Faleomavaega’s continued opposition in this matter.

“It is hurtful that my own Congressman believes Congress has the power to deny citizenship to my family and to me, and is supporting the effort to deny us our constitutional rights,” said Tuaua, a retired High Court marshal. “We are already Americans by birth, so we should be recognized as citizens.”

The plaintiffs will be preparing a response to the government’s motion in the coming weeks, said Alailima.