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American Samoa natives sue for US citizenship birthright

Several natives of the US territory American Samoa [official website] on Tuesday filed a federal lawsuit in Washington, DC, arguing that those born in American Samoa should be granted automatic US citizenship. The lawsuit challenges federal laws [Reuters report] that except American Samoa from the rule pertaining to all other US territories that US citizenship is bestowed as a birthright. American Samoa has a population of approximately 68,000 [CIA World Factbook profile]. Those born there are US nationals who must follow the same procedures for naturalization as permanent legal residents, or they can claim citizenship if at birth they had a parent who was a citizen. Otherwise they receive passports with an imprint noting their statuses as non-citizen US nationals. The lawsuit claims that this status violates the Fourteenth Amendment [text] guarantee that "All persons born ... in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States" [Cornell LII backgrounder]. However, many in American Samoa do not want automatic citizenship [AP report], as it would place all those born in the territory under the jurisdiction of the entire US Constitution, precluding certain communal land ownership rules unique to American Samoa, such as favoring those with Samoan blood. US House of Representatives [official websites], introduced a bill earlier this year to make it easier for those living in the territory to gain for citizenship, such as allowing applications directly from American Samoa instead of adhering to the current requirement of three months of residency in a US state. The bill is currently pending in Congress.

Over the last century Congress has granted citizenship rights to Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Last year JURIST Guest Columnist Edsel Tupaz wrote about several areas of the international law of the seas [JURIST comment] and complex issues of multilateral diplomacy that must be dealt with in order to resolve the dispute, noting that Faleomavaega had introduced House Resolution 352 calling for "a peaceful and collaborative resolution to maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea and other maritime areas adjacent to the East Asian mainland." In July 2010 American Samoa concluded a constitutional convention that approved several amendments to the territory's 1967 constitution [JURIST report]. The amendments removed much of the authority of the US Department of the Interior (DOI) in the country and shifted that power to local officials. Some of the specific changes approved by the convention included removing the DOI's ability to override vetoes of the American Samoan governor and removing the DOI's ability to reject amendments to the territory's constitution. American Samoa has been a US territory since 1900.

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