This past Thursday, December 12, a federal judge in Utah ruled that American Samoans are allowed birthright citizenship. Judge Clark Waddoups wrote that American Samoans have a right to citizenship under the Fourteenth Amendment, which grants anyone born in the United States citizenship. American Samoans were previously considered "United States nationals" or "non-citizen nationals."
While this ruling may not yet extend to all American Samoans, it is a major victory for American Samoans, who have previously lost similar cases. American Samoa has been a U.S. territory since 1900 and is the only U.S. territory that does not grant birthright citizenship: those born in other U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico and Guam are allowed citizenship. The ruling will also issue new passports to the plaintiffs. Currently, American Samoans' passports include a line that reads, "The bearer is a United States national and not a United States citizen."
The plaintiffs sued the U.S. government, arguing that their status as non-citizens placed them as "second-class Americans" and denied them certain rights and closed them off from opportunities such as in employment. Furthermore, American Samoans are not able to vote because they are not citizens. About American Samoans' citizenship status, the plaintiffs' attorney, Neil Weare, stated, "It doesn't feel very good when the federal government says you're American, but not quite the same as other Americans, just a little bit different. Just being able to say they're real American citizens, I think that goes a long way, in addition to being able to vote." Thursday's ruling is a huge step in the inclusion of American Samoans in making American Samoans citizens with full rights, especially considering how long American Samoa has been a U.S. territory.
While many see this ruling as important and necessary, some American Samoans are actually opposed to becoming U.S. citizens. They fear that they could lose the way of life of their indigenous people as well as indigenous land, fearing that they may face the same loss of their political systems and land as Hawai'i. Many have expressed how their indigenous way of life is much different from the political systems in the United States and believe that becoming citizens may threaten this way of life.
Both sides make a valid case. Many of the indigenous peoples in the United States have experienced loss of land as well as an erasure of their culture and lifestyles, and American Samoans' fear of the same fate is far from being unfounded. However, it is also important that American Samoans have the rights that citizenship will allow them, especially the right to vote. Although opinions about the ruling are divided, Judge Waddoup's decision will certainly have a significant impact on America Samoa and its people's status in the United States.