Why are people born in American Samoa not recognized as U.S. citizens?


When American Samoa's traditional leaders signed the Deeds of Cession in 1900 and 1904 transferring sovereignty to the United States, they believed that in return they would be recognized as U.S. citizens.


However, without any basis in the law, and contrary to the desires of American Samoa's leaders, officials at the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Navy refused to recognize American Samoans as citizens, labeling them instead with the inferior status of "non-citizen U.S. national." The U.S. Navy was motivated in large part due to racial stereotypes, believing American Samoans were "not ready" to be recognized as citizens. In 1940, Congress passed a discriminatory law that for the first time formally denied American Samoans recognition as U.S. citizens. 


Today, U.S. citizenship is recognized for children born in American Samoa to parents who are U.S. citizens. However, all other children born in American Samoa continue to be labeled as "non-citizen U.S. nationals." In defense of this denial of citizenship, the U.S. Department of Justice - joined by elected officials in American Samoa - relies almost exclusively on the Insular Cases.


For more background, see Citizenship in Empire: The Legal History of U.S. Citizenship in American Samoa, 1899-1960.

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