CAC calls for citizenship for American Samoans
Congressman Faleomavaega Eni has written to the Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC), a think tank group law firm based in Washington D.C., voicing his opposition to the group’s planned lawsuit in federal court that would make the citizenship clause of the U.S. Constitution apply to persons born in American Samoa.
In his letter this week to the CAC, Faleomavaega explained that the current naturalization process has proved to be burdensome to many American Samoans. “However, I cannot offer my support to the CAC’s efforts for the simple reason that the issue of U.S. citizenship for American Samoans should be decided by the people of American Samoa and the U.S. Congress, not by a federal court,” he said.
According to the Congressman, the group’s proposed lawsuit poses much uncertainty as to whether the Samoan culture will be protected or challenged in federal court. He also points out that application of the U.S. Constitution to American Samoa presents significant threats to our Samoan traditions founded on a 3,000 year old culture.
He cited a 1980 local case where the High Court of American Samoa upheld cultural preservation laws in American Samoa.
“However, this ruling is not a binding precedent in federal district courts. Moreover, there is a possibility of a third party challenge to our cultural traditions that may not necessarily be in compliance with federal law and certain provisions of the U.S. Constitution,” he said.
The CAC was informed that the Congressman has introduced an amendment to change certain provisions of the federal immigration law that would allow U.S. nationals to apply for U.S. citizenship directly from American Samoa, rather than having to travel to a state and maintain residence for three months before qualifying to apply to become a U.S. citizen.
“It is critical that the people of American Samoa be given an opportunity to decide for themselves whether or not they want U.S. citizenship,” said Faleomavaega. “I cannot support a lawsuit that will cause a federal court to authorize this process, especially when this issue is still uncertain in the minds of the people of American Samoa.”
Responding to Samoa News inquiries Neil Weare, CAC’s Litigation and Policy Counsel said their office has been contacted by American Samoans about possible legal redress due to the hardship to become naturalized citizens.
"Many American Samoans have faced personal and family hardships as a result of federal laws that require persons born in American Samoa to naturalize in order to be recognized as U.S. citizens, and CAC has been contacted by some of these individuals about possible legal redress,” said Weare via e-mail yesterday from Washington D.C.
“Their claim, that because they were born in a U.S. territory they should not have to go through the costly and burdensome naturalization process in order to be recognized as a U.S. citizen and treated the same as other Americans, has constitutional merit,” said Weare, who plans to be in the territory in a few weeks time.
Faleomavaega said in a news release that included his letter to the CAC that Congress has not enacted a law to grant U.S. citizenship to those born in American Samoa.
“The application of the U.S. Constitution to American Samoa poses some interesting questions on a culture that has been in existence for over 3,000 years,” he said. “I do believe the choice of becoming a U.S. citizen belongs to the people of American Samoa, and not by judicial legislation.”
He said the planned lawsuit is a wake-up call to remind the Samoan community to be more actively engaged in determining what the territory’s political future will be.
“It concerns me that the future of our territory may well be determined by outside forces and not by the will of the people,” he added.
A copy of his letter was sent to Gov. Togiola Tulafono and the Fono.