Eni informs ASG: You may become intervenor in citizenship lawsuit
Congressman Faleomavaega Eni says there is a possibility that American Samoa Government can intervene in the citizenship lawsuit pending in federal court and has invited ASG to participate because the outcome will have an impact on local customs and communal land.
The civil suit filed last July seeks a declaratory judgment from the court that the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution should apply to American Samoa. This means that all persons born on American Samoa soil would automatically be U.S. Citizens, instead of the current status of U.S. nationals.
Local resident Leneuoti Tuaua is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, along with eight others including a Samoan organization in California. Defendants are former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton, the State Department and a senior department official.
Last December oral arguments to dismiss the case, as sought by the defendants, were heard by U.S. District Court Richard J. Leon, who took the matter under advisement, according to court records.
Plaintiffs’ local attorney Charles Alailima, who attended the hearing in D.C. said at the time that it was clear after the hearing that “Judge Leon is taking our claims seriously, noting at the end of the argument that we presented a ‘truly novel and interesting claim’.”
There was no other information from the federal court on when a decision is expected, but Faleomavaega Eni, in an Apr. 2 letter to Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga says a ruling is anticipated within the next six months.
Faleomavaega’s letter officially informed the new administration about the lawsuit, his perceived consequences to the Samoan culture, and the fact that he had filed a ‘friend of the court’ brief in support of the defendants to dismiss the case and have this issue settled by the people of American Samoa, not a court thousands of miles away.
“The lawsuit poses a threat to our traditional culture,” Faleomavaega wrote in the letter, with copies sent to Lt. Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga and Fono members.
He explained that if the court applies the Citizenship Clause to the territory, it is unknown if the entire U.S. Constitution will also apply to American Samoa. “Additionally, if people born in American Samoa become automatic U.S. citizens, it is likely that the U.S. will take control of the immigration system in American Samoa,” he said.
“It is important that the people of American Samoa decide, and not the Court, whether they wish to become U.S. citizens by birthright,” said Faleomavaega, who is represented pro bono by attorney Michael Williams of the Washington D.C. based law firm of Kirkland & Ellis LLP.
He also informed the governor that his amicus brief — or ‘friend of the court’ brief — outlined the flaws in the Plaintiff’s arguments, as well as the dangers that the American Samoan culture would face if the entire U.S. Constitution applied to the territory.
“It is expected that this matter will be appealed regardless if the Court rules for the Plaintiffs or Defendants,” he said and noted that Williams has informed him of the possibility of ASG “participating as an intervenor should an appeal be filed.”
“As an intervenor, ASG will become a party to the litigation and have a better chance of being heard by the Court than if ASG submitted an amicus curiae brief. In order to intervene, ASG must make a timely application to the Court to be heard,” he wrote.
In a separate news release yesterday morning announcing the letter sent to local leaders, Faleomavaega reiterated his opposition to the lawsuit “because it puts the decision of the future of American Samoa into the hands of a federal court rather than our people.”
“The lawsuit if successful could apply the entire U.S. Constitution to American Samoa thereby endangering our communal lands and matai titles,” he said “If the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution applies to American Samoa, it will make it possible for anyone to file lawsuits to challenge local laws that provide land and matai titles only to persons of Samoan ancestry.”
He also pointed out that he does not oppose birthright citizenship for the people of American Samoa. “If the majority of American Samoans want to become birthright citizens, I will work with Congress to grant citizenship to people born in American Samoa,” he said. “However, I do oppose a federal court deciding the future of American Samoa without the consent of people in American Samoa.”
Alailima said previously that the U.S. Supreme Court has already stated that the Citizenship Clause guarantees citizenship throughout the territorial limits of the United States, including U.S. territories.
“Those born in American Samoa have the same right to citizenship as Americans born anywhere else in the United States,” he said.