|Congressman Faleomavaega announced today plans to introduce legislation in Congress to provide for a federally authorized referendum in American Samoa on the question of citizenship. In a letter to Governor Lolo M. Moliga, Congressman Faleomavaega informed Governor Lolo and the Fono of his draft bill and welcomed their feedback on the legislation.
“A decision in Tuaua v. U.S. (citizenship lawsuit) currently in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is expected in the upcoming months. The lawsuit could apply U.S. citizenship to everyone born in American Samoa, regardless if they want to become citizens,” Faleomavaega said.
“We can no longer afford to do nothing. It is time that we vote as a territory to decide if we want to become U.S. citizens. If we choose to do nothing, the decision to become U.S. citizens will be decided for us by persons and groups outside of American Samoa.”
“The legislation I have proposed will provide for a referendum in American Samoa, where all eligible voters decide whether they want to become U.S. citizens. After 70 years of struggling with the citizenship issue in American Samoa, the time has come to make a decision.” Faleomavaega concluded.
The full text of the Congressman’s letter to Governor Lolo and the Fono is included below:
I write regarding legislation I intend to introduce to Congress to provide for a federally authorized referendum or plebiscite in American Samoa on the question of citizenship. A decision in Tuaua v. U.S. (citizenship lawsuit) currently in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is expected in the upcoming months. The lawsuit could apply U.S. citizenship to everyone born in American Samoa, regardless if they want to become citizens. We have been struggling with the question of citizenship for over 70 years, and can no longer afford to do nothing. If we choose to do nothing, outside forces will decide our future for us, as is the case in the citizenship lawsuit. The time is of the essence to decide whether the people of American Samoa desire U.S. citizenship.
The legislation that I am proposing will likely come at no cost to the local government, and will allow all eligible voters in American Samoa to decide whether they want to become U.S. citizens. I also included similar language in a Territorial Omnibus Act that Congress will address later this year.
The decision to become U.S. citizens has been complicated in the past because of concerns regarding the impact of citizenship on our communal land system and matai titles. However, we know from the examples of other U.S. territories that by becoming citizens through congressional action we can negotiate the terms of our relationship with the U.S. to protect our traditional culture.
All other U.S. territories have received citizenship through Congressional action. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is the latest U.S. territory to receive citizenship, when Congress in 1976 resolved to accept a Covenant of Political Union between CNMI and the U.S. Within the Covenant, Congress included language which authorizes the CNMI to “restrict acquisition of any lands in the Northern Mariana Islands to persons of Northern Marianas descent.” American Samoa can similarly negotiate an agreement with the U.S. to gain citizenship while at the same time ensuring protection of our culture and communal lands.
As you may know, one of the recommendations of the 2007 Future Political Status Study Commission Report states that “American Samoa shall continue as an unorganized and unincorporated territory and that a process of negotiation with the U.S. Congress for a permanent political status be initiated.” The Commission called for a specially tailored Act of Congress to reaffirm the special protective provisions for lands and titles in the Constitution of American Samoa.
I welcome your feedback on this draft bill and look forward to working with you and the Fono on this important issue for American Samoa.
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