On April 17, American Samoa celebrates the 113th Anniversary of being part of the United States. Samoa News, the major newspaper in American Samoa, recently published an op-ed by American Samoan Attorney Charles V. Ala'ilima, co-counsel in Tuaua v. United States, that examines American Samoa's historical relationship with the United States and what it means for the recognition of American Samoans as full citizens. Some excerpts follow, the full piece is available here.
Attorney Ala'ilima begins with highlighting the fact that American Samoa's traditional leaders thought they were citizens following the 1900 Deeds of Cession:
When the United States flag was raised over Pago Pago harbor 113 years ago today, our traditional leaders believed that they had entered the American family as U.S. citizens. It wasn’t until 20 years later that they were informed by the Navy that in the eyes of the U.S. government, even though American Samoans had taken on the obligations of U.S. nationals, they lacked the rights of U.S. citizens. And thus the status of “non-citizen national” was invented, a status no one in the United States even imagined existed until the early 1900s.
In the 1930s, Ala'ilima explains, these leaders petitioned Congress for recognition as citizens:
Samuel Tulele Galeai: “[T]hat as Tutuila and Manua has been accepted as part of America, I therefore pray that the people of Tutuila and Manua may also become citizens of America.”
Chief Fanene: “[M]any years we have been under the American flag. . . . But we have not received the word ‘true American.’ . . . We are only a few people that is true, but we wish to become loyal and peaceful citizens of the United States.”
Chief Nua: “I desire . . . that the people of American Samoa should be true American citizens; receive American citizenship, to be equal with the true American.”
Ala'ilima concludes by highlighting that so long as American Samoa is part of the United States, the Constitution, not Congress, answers the question of whether people born in American Samoa are citizens:
As we observe this celebration of Flag Day let us remember that these islands of American Samoa have been a part of the United States since our ancestors gave it by Deeds of Cession over a century ago. In fact, American Samoa has been part of the United States for almost half the entire existence of the United States. Whether American Samoa will continue to remain a part of the United States is a question that can be voted on by the people of American Samoa. Our popular votes in the past have always been to keep American Samoa a part of the United States. So long as it is the will of our people and the U.S. Congress to honor our ancestors' Deeds of Cession of Tutuila, Aunu'u and the Manua Islands to the United States, the question of an individual's citizenship by birth in American Samoa is answered by the United States Constitution.
More information about our Tuaua v. United States is available here.