Perhaps surprisingly, the American Samoan government, along with a majority of its citizens, opposes its residents acquiring citizenship by birthright, particularly by court order, said Michael F. Williams, a lawyer representing the government.
In 1900, the chiefs of American Samoa agreed to become part of the United States by signing an act, which included protections for fa’a samoaan expression meaning “the Samoan way” which refers to the traditional culture of the islands.
“The American Samoan people are concerned that the incorporation of citizenship into the territory of American Samoa could have a detrimental impact on traditional Samoan culture,” Williams said. He added: “American Samoans believe that if they are going to make this fundamental change, they should be doing it themselves, not a judge in Salt Lake City, Denver, Colorado or Washington, DC, to do it. .”
Yet the reasons why American Samoans do not have birthright citizenship were not originally related to any effort to protect Samoan culture. Instead, a series of court cases in the early 20th century, known as the “island cases”, established that US territories were both part of the United States and outside of it. The reason, the Supreme Court ruled in 1901, was that these territories were “foreign in a national sense”, “inhabited by extraterrestrial races” and therefore to govern them “according to Anglo-Saxon principles may for some time be impossible”.
Among those calling for legislative change is Charles Ala’ilima, a lawyer based in American Samoa.
“There is only one category of citizens in the United States except here in American Samoa,” he said. “What we have now is essentially the imposition of a second-class status on a people who are under the sovereignty of the government. That’s the definition of colonialism.
Some legal scholars argue that American Samoa is not fully subject to the United States Constitution, which allows it to retain certain characteristics of life, including the her, a prayer curfew in place in some villages and traditional communal land ownership. Imposing citizenship by birthright, they argue, would legally jeopardize these traditions.
But in the 1970s, a court in Washington, D.C. found that residents of American Samoa had the right to a jury trial “as guaranteed by our Constitution” – even after an American Samoa court ruled that the introduction of jury trials would be “an arbitrary decision”. foreign, illogical and inappropriate taxation.