US Citizenship Case Update: Samoan Federation of America Inc. files “friend of the court brief”
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A California based Samoan organization, which is arguing for automatic US citizenship for persons born in American Samoa, is being allowed to file a “friend of the court brief” at the federal court in Salt Lake City, Utah, where a complaint is pending against the US State Department and other federal officials.
Last week, the Samoan Federation of America, Inc. asked the court that they be allowed to file an “Amicus Curiae” brief, in support of the plaintiffs — John Fitisemanu, Pale Tuli and Rosavita Tuli - all born in American Samoa but living in Utah. Another plaintiff is the Southern Utah Pacific Islander Coalition (SUPIC).
The plaintiffs’ complaint was filed Mar. 27th and three days later, they asked the court for an “order granting judgment in their favor”, arguing among other things, that because they were born in American Samoa, a US territory, they are entitled to citizenship under the 14th Amendment, the Citizenship clause — of the US Constitution.
“In the absence of recognition as U.S. citizens, people born in American Samoa are citizens of nowhere. Our people deserve better,” said federation president, Loa Pele Faletogo, in a statement by Equally American, which is leading the plaintiffs’ case.
SUPIC co-founder, Susi Lafaele points out that thousands of American Samoans living in Utah and other states are denied voting rights and job opportunities because they are labeled with the second-class status of “non-citizen U.S. national”.
“It’s 2018 – we should no longer have two separate classes of Americans,” said Lafaele in the Equally American statement.
The court on Apr. 20th granted Samoan Federation group’s request to file an Amicus Curiae, which was done this past Tuesday. The group, which was established in 1969, noted that it was a plaintiff in the “Tuaua case” — another citizenship complaint filed more than two years ago at the federal court in Washington D.C which was later dismissed.
In the Tuaua case, the federation said it argued that people born in American Samoa have an individual constitutional right to citizenship that does not require legislative approval by the US Congress or any other elected officials. In the current case, the feds reiterate the same argument.
“The Samoan Federation believes that recognition of citizenship is critical to the political and economic empowerment of American Samoan communities throughout the United States,” the group argued, through its attorneys, in the current Utah case.
The federation alleges that discriminatory federal laws that require American Samoans to naturalize to be recognized as U.S. citizens “create significant barriers to the political participation of American Samoans living in Utah and other states, in effect serving as a poll tax, literacy test, voter identification requirement, and felon disenfranchisement provision all rolled into one.”
It also claims that “historical record is clear that this second-class status — non-citizen U.S. national — was motivated by racial animus towards the native-born inhabitants of American Samoa and other overseas territories.”
“In 2018, federal courts should recognize what American Samoa’s leaders understood in 1900: so long as the U.S. flag flies over American Samoa, every person born in American Samoa has a right to be recognized as a U.S. citizen,” according to the federation’s brief containing more than 200 pages of documents including exhibits.
As far as local concerns over the impact of citizenship on lands and titles, and the increase of federal jurisdiction over such issue, the federation said these are “misplaced” concerns.
The federation outlined in its motion the long history — going back to 1900 — of American Samoan support for recognition as U.S. citizens.
But despite this history, the federation said “elected officials in American Samoa today have opposed recognizing citizenship as a right for people born in American Samoa, arguing instead that citizenship should be a privilege subject to congressional approval.” (This was the argument by ASG and Congresswoman Aumua Amata in the Tuaua case.)
“But these elected officials’ concerns that birthright citizenship presents a threat to American Samoan self-determination or cultural preservation are misplaced,” the federation argues.
Furthermore, the question of self-determination for American Samoan people to decide is whether or not to be a part of the United States, a question that continues to be answered in the affirmative.
“So long as the United States flag flies over American Samoa, the U.S. Constitution provides an individual right to be recognized as a citizen that is not subject to the views of elected officials,” it says, adding that concerns over land and cultural traditions are “separate and apart from whether American Samoans are recognized as citizens or non-citizen nationals.
“In 1900, American Samoa’s leaders believed that by transferring sovereignty to the United States, they would have a right to be recognized as U.S. citizens,” the federation said. “They were right then, and they remain right today.”
By granting the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, “this Court would grant American Samoans the long-overdue recognition that they are the equals of all others born within the United States, as the Fourteenth Amendment requires,” it says.
The US State Department has been given until June to respond to the complaint.