American Samoans can sacrifice their lives fighting for U.S., but have no right to citizenship

by Teri Chung

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia handed down a decision earlier this month finding that American Samoans don’t have a constitutional right to U.S. citizenship.

The United States grants citizenship to everyone born on its soil except those born in American Samoa. Although American Samoa has been a U.S. territory for 115 years, the U.S. has slammed the citizenship door in this territory’s face, even though it has provided birthright U.S. citizenship to the other four unincorporated U.S. territories of Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. If an American Samoan wishes to be a U.S. citizen, they must not only undergo the naturalization process, but they must leave the territory and live in a U.S. state for at least three months before they apply.

American Samoans must carry a passport that explicitly labels them a subordinate, second-class citizen status as a U.S. national, not a U.S. citizen. They are unable to vote, are unable to hold elected office, are ineligible for federal work study programs, and will not be considered for any federal employment opportunities.

Despite this, the United States gladly accepts American Samoans service in the U.S. military. Four of the six plaintiffs seeking citizenship in Tuaua v. United States have served, defending the freedoms that American citizens enjoy.

American Samoa has been the top U.S. Army Recruiting Station out of the 885 army recruiting stations and centers under the US Army Recruiting Command (USAREC). According to NBC News, American Samoa has the highest per capita death rate from serving than any U.S. state or territory, and yet these brave individuals have no say in electing their commander-in-chief.

The appellate court based its ruling on outdated precedent from the same judge who established “separate but equal” in Plessy v. Ferguson, which justified racial segregation. The court denied citizenship to American Samoans based on the 114-year-old Insular cases, which compared the people living in U.S. territories to “alien races” who “differ from us in customs and modes of thought” and are “not able to understand Anglo-Saxon principles.”

A ruling based on this rationale is incomprehensible today, labeling American Samoans as outsiders who don’t have the same protections and rights that Americans living in the 50 states have based on legal dicta that has long been disregarded.

Check out HBO John Oliver’s spot-on take.

Teri Chung is a 2015 law clerk at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC. She is a second-year law student at University of Massachusetts School of Law.

Fighting for civil rights for all and working to empower #AAPIs to participate in our democracy. Follow: @johncyangdc @tao_minnis @meganessaheb

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