24 Apr 2020

State Dept calls for reversal of American Samoa citizenship ruling

8:17 pm on 24 April 2020

The US State Department is seeking to reverse a federal district court decision granting full citizenship to US nationals born in American Samoa.

The US State Department building in Washington.

The US State Department building in Washington. Photo: AFP

Last December, a District Court Judge in Salt Lake City, ruled in favour of three American Samoan plaintiffs seeking citizenship as a birth right.

Judge Clark Waddoups ruled that "persons born in American Samoa are citizens of the United States by virtue of the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."

The amendment granted citizenship to all those born or naturalised in the US.

Now, the US 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver has been asked to overturn the ruling on the grounds American Samoa as an 'unincorporated territory' was not part of the US for purposes of the Citizenship Clause.

Defendants, including the State Department, the Secretary of State and other senior officials, argue legal precedents denied American Samoa qualified and say only Congress had the power to ascribe citizenship to the territory.

The defendants also say the district court's decision was too broad, overboard and ignored the wishes of American Samoa's elected officials and US nationals living in the territory.

Without a class action, the defendants argued the plaintiffs were not entitled to seek relief on behalf of others - many of whom, like fellow American Samoans who opposed the extension of birthright citizenship, would in fact regard the district court's injunction as an unwelcome imposition of a status they did not seek.

At a minimum, the lower court's injunction should be narrowed to apply only to the plaintiffs, the defendants concluded.

American Samoa's Governor Lolo Moliga and Congresswoman Aumua Amata Radewagen have already filed their own appeal in the matter.

"The December decision upended long-coveted self-determination in American Samoa, impacting traditional local culture and heritage - Fa'aSamoa", according to Congresswoman Aumua Amata Radewagen.

Congresswoman Radewagen said she was "committed to the preservation of Fa'a Samoa" even as she worked toward a simplified path to an individual citizenship choice for those who desired it.

The Congresswoman and Governor Lolo's brief stated that American Samoa was "unique among all US territories," pointing out that its tribal leaders more than a century ago "ceded sovereignty to the United States."

Aumua Amata and the Governor argued, the earlier ruling had moved to "forcibly extend US citizenship to "all persons born in American Samoa, whether they like it or not."

They argued this violated every legal principle of self-determination, sovereignty and autonomy.