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Plaintiff Fitisemanu comments on birthright citizenship hearing

Courtroom, 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado
“After hearing the arguments, I’m optimistic the court will recognize that I am a U.S. citizen ..."
Source: Media release from law firm of Gibson Dunn

Denver, COLORADO —  Whether people born in U.S. territories have a constitutional right to U.S. citizenship will depend on how the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit rules following argument yesterday in Fitisemanu v. United States, attorneys for John Fitisemanu stated in a press release issued yesterday after the hearing in the 10 Circuit Court of Appeals.

Because of COVID-19, arguments in the case were done by video conference rather than in-person, with each of the Judges and attorneys in the case participating via Zoom.

“While I would have liked to be in the courtroom while the judges were considering whether or not I have a right to U.S. citizenship based on my birth on U.S. soil in American Samoa, I’m glad I was able to at least listen in to the audio,” said John Fitisemanu following the argument. “After hearing the arguments, I’m optimistic the court will recognize that I am a U.S. citizen, not simply a U.S. national – it’s time to bring an end to this second-class status.”

“Each of the judges were engaged and interested in the case,” said Matthew D. McGill, a Partner at Gibson Dunn, who argued on behalf of the Fitisemanu plaintiffs before the Tenth Circuit. “Ultimately, the Constitution is clear that if you are born on U.S. soil – whether in state or territory – you have a right to citizenship.”

“Addressing some of the points that came up at argument, the historical record is clear that for nearly 60 years American Samoans pushed hard to be recognized as full U.S. citizens. And today, American Samoans are citizens of nowhere based on the federal government’s unconstitutional denial of citizenship to people born in American Samoa,” said Charles Ala’ilima, a prominent American Samoa attorney who also represents the Fitisemanu plaintiffs. “Equally important, recognition of citizenship would not have an impact on the preservation of American Samoan land and culture.”

“It was disappointing, but not surprising, to see the U.S. Department of Justice continue to rely on the racist Insular Cases to argue that people born in U.S. territories have no right to citizenship,” said Neil Weare, co-counsel for the Fitisemanu plaintiffs and President and Founder of Equally American, which advocates for equality and civil rights for the nearly 4 million Americans living in U.S. territories. “As the Supreme Court said in June, the Insular Cases should not be expanded, so I’m hopeful the Tenth Circuit will follow that command here and rule in our client’s favor.”

However the Tenth Circuit rules, the case is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.