Congressman Faleomavaega announced today his opposition to a planned lawsuit by the Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC) that would make the citizenship clause of the U.S. Constitution apply to persons born in American Samoa. The Congressman expressed his opposition in a letter to the CAC.
“It has come to my attention that the Constitutional Accountability Center is preparing a lawsuit to grant U.S. citizenship to anyone born in American Samoa or as they are known under U.S. immigration law as U.S. Nationals. The purpose of the lawsuit is to challenge Congressional authority to either deny or grant U.S. citizenship especially to those born in U.S. territories. In the case of American Samoa, Congress has not enacted a law to grant U.S. citizenship to those born in American Samoa.” Faleomavaega said.
“The application of the U.S. Constitution to American Samoa poses some interesting questions on a culture that has been in existence for over 3,000 years. I do believe the choice of becoming a U.S. citizen belongs to the people of American Samoa, and not by judicial legislation.” Faleomavaega added.
“The planned lawsuit is a wakeup call to remind our Samoan community to be more actively engaged in determining what the territory’s political future will be. It concerns me that the future of our territory may well be determined by outside forces and not by the will of the people.”
The full text of the Congressman’s letter, which was copied to Governor Togiola, the Lieutenant Governor, President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House and has been distributed to all Fono members, is included below:
I am writing to express my serious concerns with the Constitutional Accountability Center’s (CAC) proposed plan to file a lawsuit in federal court to make U.S. citizenship automatic for individuals born in American Samoa. As you have noted, the current naturalization process has proved to be burdensome to many American Samoans. However, I cannot offer my support to the CAC’s efforts for the simple reason that the issue of U.S. citizenship for American Samoans should be decided by the people of American Samoa and the U.S. Congress, not by a federal court.
The CAC’s proposed lawsuit poses much uncertainty as to whether our Samoan culture will be protected or challenged in federal court. As you are well aware, the application of the U.S. Constitution to American Samoa presents significant threats to our Samoan traditions founded on a 3,000 year old culture. In Craddick v. Territorial Registrar of American Samoa (1 ASR 2d 11 (1980)), the American Samoa High Court upheld cultural preservation laws in American Samoa. However, this ruling is not a binding precedent in federal district courts. Moreover, there is a possibility of a third party challenge to our cultural traditions that may not necessarily be in compliance with federal law and certain provisions of the U.S. Constitution.
It should also be noted that the federal court’s ruling in King v. Morton (520 F.2d 1140 (1975)) decided that the constitutional right to a jury trial applied to American Samoa despite objections from 13 witnesses, including traditional leaders, who testified against having jury trials in the territory. The court’s reasoning in King, was that American Samoa institutions had become sufficiently Americanized; therefore, jury trials should be required in criminal cases as it is in accordance with the requirements of “due process” in the U.S. Constitution. Consequently, the federal court created a new mandate by judicial legislation that brought American Samoa in compliance with the U.S. Constitution, despite the uncertainty as to whether jury trials could be effectively implemented in the territory.
My concern is that the application of certain constitutional issues to American Samoa such as “due process” and “equal protection” may pose a threat to other aspects of our laws that were enacted to protect and preserve our Samoan traditions and culture.
In light of the CAC’s initial purpose in filing this lawsuit, I would nevertheless like to inform you that I have introduced an amendment to change certain provisions of the federal immigration law to benefit our U.S. Nationals. The proposed amendment would allow U.S. nationals to apply for U.S. citizenship directly from American Samoa, rather than having to travel to a state and maintain residence for three months before qualifying to apply to become a U.S. citizen.
It is critical that the people of American Samoa be given an opportunity to decide for themselves whether or not they want U.S. citizenship.
Faleomavaega concluded his letter by stating, “I cannot support a lawsuit that will cause a federal court to authorize this process, especially when this issue is still uncertain in the minds of the people of American Samoa.”