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American Samoa lawsuit seeks U.S. citizenship

By Associated Press


PAGO PAGO, American Samoa >> A group of five people have filed a federal lawsuit arguing they should be U.S. citizens by virtue of being born in American Samoa, the only U.S. territory that doesn't grant that birthright.

The lawsuit filed this week in Washington, D.C., challenges the constitutionality of federal laws that make those born in American Samoa U.S. nationals but not citizens like those born in other territories.

In Puerto Rico, territorial status grants residents U.S. citizenship, but they pay no federal income taxes and cannot vote in presidential elections. Their congressional representative also cannot vote in Congress.

Those born in American Samoa are considered nationals, who also don't pay federal income taxes and can't vote for president. Nationals must follow the same procedures for naturalization as those who are permanent legal residents, which includes taking tests on English proficiency and American civics, even though English is widely spoken in American Samoa and public schools teach U.S. history.

"If we are American Samoans, then why not citizens? I believe American Samoans deserve the same right and benefits as all other Americans," said lead plaintiff Leneuoti Tuaua.

Tuaua wanted to pursue a law enforcement career in California but couldn't because of his status as a U.S. national, according to the complaint. He and fellow plaintiffs Fanuatanu Mamea and Emy Afalava live in the territory. Plaintiff Vaaleama Fosi lives in Honolulu, while Taffy-Lei Maene lives in Seattle.

Statutes have been passed in other territories defining them as part of the United States and entitling people born there to U.S. citizenship. But not everyone in American Samoa wants that, explained Margaret Stock, an immigration attorney in Alaska who often handles cases involving American Samoa nationals.

Being a citizen at birth would mean all of the U.S. Constitution applies, which would prevent certain communal land ownership rules unique to American Samoa, such as favoring those with Samoan blood, Stock said.

"This has been a big debate in American Samoa for a long time," she said.

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soshaljustic wrote:
Understanding why many would not want citizenship when considering the context of overthrow of Hawaii, curious how the US would want Samoan fighters for our military, yet not consider granting DUAL citizenship when asked for as an automatic or more streamlined and workable process, considering the "Territorial" nature for Samoans in these unique situations. This would allow those not wishing auto-citizenry to maintain sole citizenry for the ease of anthropo-emotional tie to old cultural norms and history of American Samoa.
on July 13,2012 | 06:56AM
juscasting wrote:
Don't have to pay federal income taxes, and can't vote for a president? Count yourselves lucky! LOL!!!!!!!!
on July 13,2012 | 09:02AM
cojef wrote:
HAwaiians paid income taxes prior to Statehood, and yet Puerto Ricans don't?? Strange, with regard to the American Samoans it might be more advantageous to maintain the status quo, and not pay taxes and forget voting for elections as the choice or the good it does is debateable.
on July 13,2012 | 10:05AM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
Sounds like they want all the benefits or citizenship without any of the responsibilities.
on July 13,2012 | 10:53AM
tobyclairmont wrote:
The people of American Samoa have often debated whether they should remain a territory of the United States. Perhaps doing the right thing (granting them citizenship) would change that intent in favor of keeping them. The people of American Samoa are Americans too.
on July 13,2012 | 02:51PM
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