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Op-Ed: Should American Samoans be citizens?

(CNN) -- American Samoans have every right to be frustrated.

The United States laid claim to these eastern islands of a South Pacific archipelago in 1900, and since that time, American Samoans have served in the U.S. military, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet, those born in American Samoa receive passports declaring the holder is only a U.S. national, not a U.S. citizen. Noncitizen residents complain they are unable to vote in national elections or to work in jobs that require citizenship status. They also claim their birth status renders them ineligible for federal work-study programs in college, firearm permits and travel/immigration visas.

If they want to become citizens, American Samoans must relocate to another part of the United States to initiate the naturalization process, pay a $680 fee and be subjected to a moral character assessment, fingerprinting and the English/civics examination. Quite a process to become citizens of the nation that they consider their home.

American Samoans indeed have every right to be frustrated.

However, they have zero legal right to be U.S. citizens.

While it's true that they would likely win their case in nearly every court of public opinion, they will ultimately lose in all the courts that count: actual courts of law. As with many things, when it comes to citizenship, little is guaranteed to residents of the Territories.

American Samoans have challenged federal laws and policy that decline to grant citizenship. The federal district court in the District of Columbia granted the government's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, but the D.C. Circuit, the appellate court, is giving the American Samoans another chance to argue their case.



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