Utah residents file lawsuit pertaining to US citizenship for American Samoans

fili@samoanews.com

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Another lawsuit has been filed by American Samoans seeking to have a federal court declare that persons born in American Samoa should automatically be US citizens in accordance with the Citizenship Clause — the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution.

As it stands, persons born in American Samoa are considered US Nationals, and it is the only US territory whose residents are not automatically considered US citizens. Instead, American Samoans need to apply for US citizenship and meet several stringent federal requirements, including living in the US for a certain period of time.

American Samoa officials have long argued that the US citizenship issue should be decided in American Samoa and not by a federal court hundreds of miles away. And the same argument was made by territorial leaders ‘ Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga, the late Congressman Faleomavaega Eni and Congresswoman Aumua Amata — when the first citizenship lawsuit was filed more than two years ago, led by local resident, Leneuoti Tuaua.

In 2016, the US Supreme Court declined to hear the Tuaua case after it was rejected by two lowers courts in Washington D.C.

The new lawsuit, filed yesterday at the federal court in Salt Lake City, Utah, shows the lead plaintiff as 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.

Among the attorneys representing the plaintiffs are local attorney Charles Alailima and Washington D.C. based Neil C. Weare of the Equally American Legal Defense & Education Fund. Both Alailima and Weare were part of the legal team for the Tuaua case, in which the federal defendants included the US Secretary of State.

The same defendants are listed in the Fitisemanu lawsuit, which includes Carl C. Risch, the Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs.

The complaint asks the federal court to, among other things, declare that persons born in American Samoa are born “in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” for purposes of the Citizenship Clause of the US Constitution and therefore are citizens by birth.

Plaintiffs are also asking the court for similar actions as argued in the Tuaua case, such as issuing new US passports to the plaintiffs without saying that the passport holders were born in American Samoa and therefore are US nationals.

According to the latest complaint, the plaintiffs are Americans, who are healthcare professionals, commercial recycling and trash collectors, and retail employees. They pay their federal, state, and local taxes, and abide by federal, state, and local laws.

The complaint claims that the plaintiffs are vital and engaged members of their communities, churches, and neighborhood associations. They contribute to the wellbeing of the State of Utah and the US.

Additionally, they were also born in American Samoa and because of the Citizenship clause, plaintiffs are US citizens.

According to the suit, Fitisemanu who was born in the territory in 1965 is denied the right to vote, despite being a taxpaying American.

“He is distressed when fellow Americans question his ‘choice’ not to vote or assume that he is a foreigner,” the complaint notes. “Over the course of his career, Mr. Fitisemanu has been discouraged from applying for certain federal and state jobs that list U.S. citizenship as an eligibility requirement, diminishing his employment opportunities.”

Fitisemanu works in the healthcare industry, helping to ensure the health and wellbeing of those in his community, according to the complaint, which states that his four adult children are all graduates of Utah public schools.

Plaintiff Pale Tuli, who was born in American Samoa in 1993, has also “faced discrimination with respect to employment opportunities”, and he would like to become a police officer, but is ineligible as a “non-citizen national.”

Plaintiff Rosavita Tuli, born in American Samoa in 1985, is proud to carry a U.S. passport, “but is insulted by the disclaimer labeling her a 'non-citizen'," according to the complaint, which further alleges that because the federal defendants have labeled Pale and Rosavita Tuli as non-citizens, they are denied the right to vote, despite being taxpaying Americans.

Pale and Rosavita Tuli are active church members, participating in their church choir and assisting with other church activities. They plan to have children, and look forward to raising their family in Utah.

According to the complaint, the Southern Utah Pacific Islander Coalition is a nonprofit corporation based in St. George, Utah that advocates for greater empowerment of the Pacific Islander community in the area.

The federal defendants label many of its members as “non-citizen nationals”. Several times a year, the Coalition sponsors workshops to assist “non-citizen nationals” and other non-citizens in navigating the naturalization process.

The Coalition also works to increase voter registration and civic engagement in the Pacific Islander community. Its advocacy work focuses on issues such as access to health care, youth development, education, and cultural preservation.

Fitisemanu, Pale Tuli, and Rosavita Tuli are members of the Coalition, which derives its standing — as a plaintiff in the lawsuit — from the harm suffered by its members as described in the complaint, which alleges, among other things, that the defendants’ actions “deprive American Samoans of equal dignity under the law and stigmatizes them as second-class Americans”.

“In all their interactions with fellow Americans who were born anywhere else in the United States, plaintiffs know that they alone are stigmatized as ‘non-citizen nationals’,” the complaint states.

“Plaintiffs have experienced comments from others as a result of this stigmatizing label that make them feel as though they are not full and equal members of American society.”

BACKGROUND

In the Tuaua case, the federal court and appellate court in Washington D.C., agreed with the federal defendants that, among other things, only Congress can grant citizenship to persons born “in outlying territories” such as American Samoa.

The appellate court explained that the people of American Samoa have been reluctant to seek citizenship because they fear it would upset “the traditional Samoan way of life,” including the territory’s longstanding “system of communal land ownership.”

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