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Lawsuit filed over denying US citizenship to local born

Five Samoans who were all born in American Samoa, along with the California based organization Samoan Federation of America, have filed a complaint with the federal court in Washington D.C. “challenging the constitutionality of federal laws that deny U.S. citizenship to persons born in... American Samoa.”

The lawsuit was announced yesterday afternoon during a news conference by local attorney Charles Alailima who was joined via teleconference by Neil Weare, litigation and policy counsel for the Washington D.C. based Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC).

Also part of the legal team is the Arnold and Porter law firm based in the nation’s capital.

Alailima said the complaint was filed with the federal court for declaratory and injunctive relief for the plaintiffs, which includes three currently residing in the territory (Leneuoti Tuaua, Fanuatanu Mamea, and Emy Afalava), and two currently living in the U.S. (Va’aleama Fosi, and Taffy-Lei Maene).

“If we are American Samoans, then why not citizens? I believe American Samoans deserve the same right and benefits as all other Americans,” said Tuaua who was present at the news conference. “I’m bringing this legal challenge so that my children can have the same world of opportunities available to them as is available to any other child born within the United States.”

As long as “we’re under the U.S. government, we should be afforded” the right to be U.S. citizens, he said and noted that the complaint is asking the federal court to clarify the issue of citizenship for U.S. nationals.

Defendants in this case are the U.S. Government, the U.S. State Department, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and State Department official Janice Jacobs.

Weare says the case is against the State Department and the top officials because they are the ones who classify American Samoans through U.S. passports recognizing them as “non-citizen nationals” rather than U.S. citizens.

Alailima added Clinton and Jacobs are being sued in their individual capacities as  officials of the State Department and the lawsuit seeks to establish on behalf of the plaintiffs their individual “right to claim U.S. citizenship by virtue of their birth in American Samoa.”

According to a news release given to reporters, in violation of clear language of the U.S. Constitution, current federal law classifies persons born in American Samoa as so-called “non-citizen nationals”, a status that was invented by the federal government after the U.S. acquired overseas territories in the early 20th century.

Today, the only Americans who are still classified as “non-citizen nationals” are those born in American Samoa. “In fact, American Samoans are the only Americans to whom the State Department issues passports which state: “The bearer is a United States National and not a United States citizen.”

More in tomorrow’s edition of Samoa News.