OP ED: “LAMENTATIONS OF A THIRD-CLASS AMERICAN SAMOAN CITIZEN”
There is a caveat that lingers in the back of my mind as I have debated internally within myself if I should write and have published my thoughts of a serious issue that burns within me. The negative repercussions, at least the superficial ones as I race to immediately publish my years old thoughts, have been taken into consideration and weighed. Needless to say, the weight of having these, my thoughts and opinions, be made animated outweigh any form(s) of disdain that may possibly come my way as I strongly feel that this is an issue, although not new, that must be further addressed and be given a bigger platform — it must be given a sure voice.
On Thursday, February 15, 2018, I made my attempt to see the Attorney General to inquire of him the answer to the question concerning who can be declared a U.S. national. He was gracious enough to give me the time of day and the opportunity to speak with him. There were no other persons there for an appointment, so, I must have come at the right time.
In the interest of time, I immediately posed my question and, after a bit of dialogue to clarify the interpretation of who qualifies as a U.S. national, my concerns.
You see (and I also gave this explanation of my background to the AG), I am an adopted son (born in Western Samoa) of legitimate U.S. national parents and was given to them since the age of 3 months old, legally adopted at the age of 1-years old.
As part of my legal adoption declaration given by the presiding magistrate, I was given all rights as if I was their own naturally-born child. Hence the question as I became of age and realized in my early adulthood that I did not qualify nor was I entitled to any of the rights and privileges any other American Samoan citizen had: “Why am I not eligible?”
This was the question to everything, because everything that I had endeavored for and set as goals for my future life, working very hard in school, church, and community was now being voided of any progression and pursuance of those meticulously planned endeavors – meticulous at least for an honor student teenager.
With no guidance and education on immigration matters, especially that of my own, I eventually later on in life made a desperate choice that produced a criminal conviction and was given a felony charge. The desperate choice: producing a false American Samoa birth certificate in order to join the military. The charge: a class C felony for submitting this birth certificate in an application for a U.S. passport.
Now, I know that one will quickly point the finger towards me in the act of shaming me for being guilty, but I can assure you that there were legitimate honest misunderstandings for my naïve mistake. So, having returned back to American Samoa (*I was not deported) in 2011, I have been unable to be granted entry back into the U.S. where my wife and son reside – they are legitimate, bona fide Americans born in the states.
Back now to my concerns. I told the AG that I had a very personal bias, yet, it is not a prejudicial hatred, towards those of non-Samoan descent, foreigners who come here on visa or some legal document and give birth here to non-Samoan descent children, who, for the mere fact that they were just born on U.S. territory soil, are given all rights and privileges of a U.S. national while we who were brought here without any choice of our own — when only babies or children — and who have lived here basically our whole lives, who are of Samoan descent, who know no other country, and whom, may like myself, pledge allegiance to the United States of America and to this country as a territory of the U.S. are given absolutely none.
I asked the AG why this was so if I am declared by American Samoa government (ASG) immigration that I am a citizen of American Samoa, and he said that American Samoa can only declare a person as a citizen of American Samoa and that U.S. national status is dictated by U.S. federal law and Congress.
I agree to the latter portion of that statement, but the former just does not make any sense or has any bearing or gives individuals like myself any merit.
Here’s why: I still have to carry around an ASG immigration ID that has to be renewed every three years; I cannot work anywhere here in American Samoa without authorization from ASG immigration and the courts; I am still labeled as “alien” in my documents; and I am still required to go through all the procedures as any foreigner who comes to this country.
So, where is a benefit of being declared a citizen of American Samoa? If a citizen, why not a national of the U.S. as well? If American Samoa can issue birth certificates to all those born here to prove to the United States that they are nationals, then why can’t they issue naturalization documents for those like myself to be given the same privileges? If a person born in Western Samoa can claim “one-parent” status because their one or both of their parents were born in American Samoa or Swains Island and be declared a U.S. national, then how come an infant or any other child adopted without choice by U.S. nationals of the same cannot be given the same?
The AG furthermore said that only those born on U.S. territory soil are declared U.S. nationals; however, this clause found at http://dpaweb.hss.state.ak.us/manuals/fs/602/602-1_d.htm says otherwise in terms of “one-parent” status. In essence, you do not have to be actually born on U.S. soil to reap the benefits.
We have these non-Samoan descent American Samoan-born U.S. nationals who in essence have “cut in front” of us Samoan-descended American Samoan “citizens”.
As I said before, there is no prejudicial hatred toward these brothers and sisters who legally came here for a better life as I stoutly believe that every single man or woman has equal, inalienable rights and the right to the pursuit of happiness. But, what about us, those like myself who are left behind, whose plight is being ignored and disregarded because there is not enough of a ruckus being made of it?
Where are our brother’s keepers who, when in need of help, turn to us, the very people who undoubtedly and at the drop of a hat would run to their aid, and yet have no equal rights to benefit from and to pursue happiness ourselves? We who have been left in the dark and in the background to be left silent because we do not know better or who are not educated enough to raise such a concern or who may just be patiently waiting with faith that maybe just maybe our politicians will come to our aid seeing our desperate plight that just having it happen to one is one too many?
We, too, are contributors, and we do also have the potential to contribute more. There is no poverty where there is freedom. We are the diamonds in the rough.
~ Misipope E. Soliai
Note: No animosity or slander is intended towards the AG as I believe he does actively advocate on behalf of "citizens" of American Samoa.