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New citizenship case goes before federal district court in Utah

Birthright citizenship in U.S. territories remains unresolved, says attorney

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — There are many American Samoans living in several states and territories, who want to be recognized as US citizens without being required to go through the naturalization process, says Neil Weare of the Washington D.C. based “Equally American” group.

Weaner, who is an attorney, along with local attorney Charles Alailima is part of the legal team representing the new lawsuit filed last week at the federal court in Salt Lake City, Utah against the federal government — and the US State Department.

Lead plaintiff in this new case is John Fitisemanu, who is joined by Pale Tuli, Rosavita Tuli and the Southern Utah Pacific Islander Coalition. All of the plaintiffs are currently residents of Utah. Fitisemanu along with Pale and Rosavita Tuli were born in American Samoa and are asking the court to declare that they are US citizens by birth, under the Citizenship Clause — the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution.

“I was born on U.S. soil, have a U.S. passport, work hard, and pay my taxes. But based on a discriminatory federal law I’m denied citizenship and the right to vote. I cannot understand how I can be a passport-holding American, but not be recognized as a U.S. citizen,” said Fitisemanu in a national news release provided by Weare. “This isn’t just unfair, it’s unconstitutional.”

Both Weare and Alailima were also part of the legal team for a similar previous suit filed more than two years ago at the federal court in Washington D.C. in which local resident Leneuoti Tuaua was the lead plaintiff. However, both the D.C. court and the appeals court sided with the federal defendants, saying that only Congress can grant the citizens of outlying territories — such as American Samoa — US citizenship.

That case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which declined to review the case.

Since the Supreme Court declined to review the Tuaua case, “we have heard from more than 500 American Samoans living in 40 states and territories who want to be recognized as U.S. citizens without being required to naturalize,” Weare said last Thursday responding to Samoa News inquiries.

“They have expressed a range of reactions to being denied recognition as citizens, from sadness, to disappointment, to anger,” Weare explained. “Only a few of the people we've heard from have said they don't want to be citizens.”

Because the Supreme Court decided not to review the lower court’s decision in the Tuaua case, “the question of birthright citizenship in current U.S. territories remains unresolved in the remaining federal circuits,” said Weare.

“Thus, while the D.C. Circuit [court] ruled against the Tuaua plaintiffs, the federal district court in Utah is not bound by that decision, and we are optimistic for a different result in the Fitisemanu case,” said Weare.

According to the plaintiffs and their legal team, the Fitisemanu v. United States makes the case that Congress cannot redefine the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to deny citizenship to persons born on U.S. soil, whether born in a state, a territory, or the District of Columbia.

“American Samoa’s leaders believed in 1900 when the American flag was raised over their islands that with U.S. sovereignty came a right to U.S. citizenship,” said Alailima. “We plan to show they were right, and in so doing ensure that American Samoans living in Utah and other states are able to enjoy the same rights as other Americans.”

In providing background on civil right litigation when efforts are made to undo court interpretations that have existed for many years, Alailima noted that in 1896, Justice Billings Brown wrote the Supreme Court decision in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson that allowed the laws to separates colored people from white people as long as they were treated equally.

Alailima said it took 59 years of court cases brought up from many different court jurisdictions around the US to get the Supreme Court in its famous 1955 case of Brown v. Board of Education to finally admit that the decision Justice Brown wrote in Plessy v. Ferguson was wrong and laws that separate people of the United States according to their race can never be considered equal under the 14th amendment.

Then in 1901, Justice Brown was part of the Supreme Court majority in the Insular cases, which has “been used by the US government to separate and deny citizenship to native American Samoan born (individuals) even while regarding the land they were deeded by our forefathers to be American soil.”

“This is a classic definition of colonialism. We have many American Samoans in the US and here who are directly affected by this interpretation of the Insular cases,” Alailima told Samoa News. “While it may also take a number of rounds of court cases we are not going to be deterred from efforts on behalf of affected American Samoans to get this colonialist stain of disrespect for native island populations removed from the American laws.”

More information on Equally American is on:  - including the group’s official statement and other background information as well as copy of the Fitisemanu lawsuit.