Aumua calls for balanced approach on US citizenship issue

fili@samoanews.com

Pago Pago, AMERICA SAMOA — Congresswoman Aumua Amata maintains her position on the US citizenship issue, when it comes to persons born in American Samoa, for the individual to have the “freedom” to remain a US national or seek citizenship.

As reported yesterday by Samoa News, three American Samoans living in Utah have asked the federal court in Salt Lake City, Utah to declare them US citizens — in accordance with the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution — because they were born in American Samoa, a US territory.

This is the second federal case on this same issue, with the first filed more than two years ago, and led by local resident Leneuoti Tuaua.

Aumua had joined ASG in arguing that, among other things, it's an individual’s right to choose citizenship and it should be decided in American Samoa, not a federal court hundreds of miles away.

Samoa News sought a reaction from Aumua on the new lawsuit — led by John Fitisemanu — and also the status of her proposed federal legislation that would, among other things, allow US nationals living in American Samoa to apply from the territory for US citizenship — if they choose to do so.

“My position on this issue is the same as last time. American Samoans should continue to have the freedom to remain Nationals or seek Citizenship, as their personal circumstances dictate,” Aumua said yesterday.

She noted that the same lawyers “unanimously lost” the Tuaua case by a vote of 3-0 in the Court of Appeals in Washington D.C.

“So 4 Judges — including the original [federal] District Court Judge — have ruled against these lawyers,” she said, but didn’t identify the “same attorneys” by name, although court documents in both the Fitisemanu and Tuaua cases show local attorney Charles Alailima and US based attorney Neil Weare as part of the legal teams in both cases.

“And the majority of the elected and traditional leaders in American Samoa filed briefs in opposition to their attempts to mandate their own solution. Their solution was rejected,” she said. “And I don’t think the same lawyers running to another Court on the other side of the country is going to change the outcome.”

“Because of that, I don’t think a blanket declaration of citizenship for everyone in or from American Samoa is the right approach, nor do the [federal] Courts, because that would take away that choice,” Aumua pointed out.

The Congresswoman said she “very much understands that American Samoans who relocate to the states have a real need for a better path to citizenship.” Additionally, “far too many employers don’t understand that a US national has the right be treated exactly as a US citizen on employment matters, and that’s frustrating, so I sympathize with the plaintiffs.”

She said she believes the “balanced approach is to let the individual decide for themselves and make the Citizenship process easier and less costly for U.S. Nationals who choose to take the citizenship path, but not make it a mandatory road that everyone has to go down.”

And that’s what her sponsored federal legislation, H.R. 5026, does.

“It protects the Samoan cultural and traditional way of life, Fa’a Samoa; it allows individual choice; it removes cost impediments such as the need to move or travel to another jurisdiction in order to apply for citizenship; and it allows for hardship waivers on a case by case basis for application fees,” Aumua explained.

According to the Congresswoman, her bill is pending in the US House Committee on Judiciary. “I anticipate the bill going through the Committee process in regular order which will give everyone an opportunity to have input during that process,” she concluded.

Text of HR 5026, co-sponsored by Guam Congresswoman Madelaine Bordallo, can be found at www.house.gov

Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale has yet to respond to a Samoa News request for comments or if ASG will file a “friend of the court” brief in this case as ASG did in the Tuaua case.

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