Claiming they have been relegated to second-class status, some American Samoans are asking the Supreme Court to correct a historic wrong and overturn a century-old law that denies them the right to be U.S. citizens at birth. Unlike children born in all the states and the other U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, the newborns of American Samoans do not become automatic U.S. citizens. They are instead deemed as “nationals” who owe their allegiance to the United States, but lack the rights as citizens to vote, to serve as officers in the military or hold top government posts. The Carson-based Samoan Federation of America is asking the justices to take up its claim that the Constitution’s 14th Amendment promises citizenship to all persons born on U.S. soil. “We’re proud of the United States, and we want to be recognized as part of it,” said federation President Loa Pele Faletogo, 71, a military veteran living in Carson. “I see young men and women who go to war to fight for the United States. They are willing to die for a country that is not fully theirs and for a nation that doesn’t fully accept them as citizens.”
California is home to about 61,000 American Samoans, according to the 2010 census. That’s more than the 55,000 who live on the South Pacific islands. But both the U.S. and American Samoan governments are urging the high court to reject the appeal. The U.S. solicitor general says the matter should be left to Congress.
The American Samoan government has historically opposed birthright citizenship, fearing it might adversely affect its national culture. The justices considered the appeal Thursday during their private conference and could act as soon as Monday.
Former U.S. Solicitor Gen. Ted Olson filed the appeal on behalf of the five Samoan plaintiffs and the Samoan Federation, asking the justices to revisit the so-called insular cases of the early 1900s. Those controversial decisions said the people of the newly acquired American territories are entitled to only some of the constitutional rights of Americans.