What are the consequences of American Samoans being denied recognition as citizens?


Based on a discriminatory federal law, people born in American Samoa are labeled with the inferior status "non-citizen U.S. national" rather than recognized as citizens as required by the U.S. Constitution.  The effects of the distinction between citizen and non-citizen national are most strongly felt by American Samoans who have moved stateside for educational and economic opportunities, but all American Samoans are impacted. 


"Non-citizen U.S. nationals" living in the states are unable to vote in federal, state, and local elections unless they first naturalize - which is only available to American Samoans who move stateside, costs $725, requires they pass a history exam, and is a process that can take a year or more without any guarantee of success.  This is like a poll tax and literacy test all rolled into one.


"Non-citizen U.S. nationals" are also denied many job opportunities, including being barred from serving as officers in the U.S. military.  Many states require citizenship to serve as police officers, firefighters, and other good-paying state or local jobs.


Many state laws actually treat "non-citizen U.S. nationals" worse off than they treat foreign nationals with legal permanent residence, providing more rights and opportunities to these foreign nationals than American Samoans enjoy as U.S. nationals. 


Federal law and the laws of each state treat non-citizen nationals differently under different circumstances.  For more information on the consequences of this confusing patchwork of laws, read this amicus brief filed by the Hon. Papalii David Cohen, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior for Insular Affairs, in support of recognizing people born in American Samoa as U.S. citizens.


Leneuoti Tuaua, a well-respected elder of the community in American Samoa, filed suit because he wants his children and grandchildren to have opportunities that were denied to him—as a young man he was unable to pursue a law enforcement career in California because the federal government does not recognize him as a citizen.


John Fitisemanu has now lived in Utah for more than 20 years, yet despite being a passport-holding, taxpaying American who served a critical role distributing COVID-19 tests, he has not been able to vote for members of his children’s school board, much less the President, because he is not recognized as a citizen.


Taffy-Lei Maene lost her job at the Seattle DMV because her U.S. passport says she is not a citizen. Va’a Fosi in Hawaii has been denied the right to bear arms despite ten years of service as an officer in the U.S. Armed Forces. These are just a few of thousands of similar stories shared by American Samoans across the world.

Was this helpful?