Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that his encouragement of U.S. Nationals to be naturalized U.S. citizens is by choice only, and should not be viewed as if he is pushing people into becoming U.S. citizenship. This is following his announcement of the special swearing-in ceremony by the United States Department of the Army for 50 local U.S. Army Reservists in Fort Bliss, Texas, December 17, 2004. (See separate Press Release).
In announcing the oath-taking ceremony for the 50 soldiers, Faleomavaega extended his congratulations to the reservists for becoming U.S. citizens and expressed his reasons for his encouragement of and the importance of being a U.S. citizen in the military.
"I am certainly not forcing or making any issue on our people to become U.S. citizens over their U.S. National status. But I am on record in pointing out what benefits U.S. Nationals are entitled to as U.S. citizens either in the military or as civilians should they ever decide to join the military or reside in the United States," Faleomavaega said.
"The main thing our people should be aware of is that many states do not recognize and/or do not even know what a U.S. National is. In fact in some states, U.S. residents or aliens residing legally in the U.S., are recognized more than U.S. Nationals. This is reflective in many federal programs where eligibility calls for U.S. citizens and/or U.S. Residents only, excluding U.S. Nationals," Faleomavaega elaborated. "This is not belittling those of us who are born in American Samoa, but it is just the way our status fits into the United States nationality classification code."
"The classic example is when new restrictions were imposed on airport security throughout the United States including the territories after 9/11. I had to introduce a special amendment to include U.S. Nationals when U.S. Nationals were not eligible to apply for airport screeners positions in U.S. airports including our own airport! Another example is when U.S. residents have priority in housing and other benefits over U.S. Nationals in many cities and states, simply because nationals are not recognized," Faleomavaega explained.
"More importantly, our students attending stateside colleges and universities find it difficult to apply for many educational programs under their U.S. National status, simply because they can be classified as aliens. So the only way for them to be fully entitled is to be naturalized, and that is why I would encourage any young Samoan to seek U.S. citizenship for further education," Faleomavaega continued.
"U.S. citizenship is the most sought-after status in the world today. To be a U.S. citizen is considered a rare privilege by many nationalities. But with the way things are after 9/11, it is an almost impossible process for many, considering the long and complex requirement and waiting process applicants have to go through even just to get started," Faleomavaega said.
"But for U.S. Nationals, the basic requirement is a minimum residency period of three months in any of the 50 states, and then the paperwork can be implemented. For all others, the minimum residency period is five years, but this varies depending on the status of the applicant if he or she is married to a U.S. citizen," the Congressman continued.
"So what I am saying is, if any of our people are planning to stay in the U.S. for a period of time for one reason or another, then it would make things a lot easier for them if they would apply for naturalization. However, if it is their desire to remain in American Samoa, and retain their status as U.S. Nationals, it is entirely up to them and I respect that also. All I am trying to clarify is that there is a choice for our people to make things a lot easier in the United States should they decide to reside there," Faleomavaega elaborated.
"Deciding which status American Samoans should have is not for me to say. That is up to the people of Tutuila and Manu'a. Should they decide to take up the issue of citizenship now or in the future is their right, and I respect that highly. But all I'm saying is, there is an option available that would make things easier should our people want it," the Congressman said.
"From many of our people I have been talking to, the fear of losing entitlement to cultural/communal and family lands and titles should they become U.S. citizens makes them hesitant to apply for naturalization. This notion is totally false. Entitlement to our culture, families and titles are determined by hereditary and blood, not by citizenship. Many of the territories cultural leaders holding leading family and village titles are U.S. citizens, and citizenship in itself, has nothing to do with family or cultural matters," Faleomavaega concluded.