What is the relationship between citizenship and self-determination in American Samoa?

And should the issue of citizenship be put up for a vote?


The question of citizenship is straightforward: So long as American Samoa is part of the United States, do people born in American Samoa have an individual right under the U.S. Constitution to be recognized as citizens?  The Constitution’s Citizenship Clause provides a clear and definitive answer to this question, and one that is not subject to a vote:  “All persons born . . . in the United States, . . . are citizens of the United States.”  But answering the question of citizenship under the U.S. flag will not answer any questions about self-determination or American Samoa’s future political status -- those are questions that only the people of American Samoa can answer.           


A court ruling that Congress cannot deny the birthright citizenship of people born in American Samoa will not change the fact that the future of American Samoa’s political status remains in the hands of the American Samoan people.  The islands of American Samoa have been a part of the United States since American Samoa’s traditional leaders transferred sovereignty through the Deeds of Cession more than a century ago.  Unless and until the American Samoan people decide to change their political status, the question of citizenship is determined by the U.S. Constitution.


People born in other U.S. territories like Puerto Rico and Guam are recognized as U.S. citizens, but the United States still recognizes that the people of these territories maintain the right to self-determination, including seeking independence if they so choose.


As prominent American Samoan Attorney Charles V. Alai’ilima, who represents the Fitisemanu plaintiffs, recently testified before Congress:


"The question for American Samoa self-determination and political status is whether the people of American Samoa would like to be part of the United States or would like to be independent – not which individual rights secured by the U.S. Constitution apply. ... So long as American Samoa is under the U.S. flag, my clients simply demand their constitutional right to be recognized as U.S. citizens, even as they continue to support broader questions of self-determination and political status being resolved through the democratic process."

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