American Samoa: A misnomer thanks to SCOTUS?

© Carlos Jasso
What makes a person an American citizen can be a philosophical question or a political one. Either way, the US Supreme Court won’t be discussing it any time soon, after rejecting American Samoa’s bid to gain US citizenship by birthright.

The case to grant American Samoans citizenship will not be heard by the US Supreme Court, following an appeal by five American Samoans against a 2015 ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Reuters reported.

American Samoa, a tiny island in the South Pacific, is home to about 55,000 inhabitants entitled to citizenship neither in the US nor the nearby nation of Samoa. American Samoans are denied citizenship thanks to the “citizenship clause" in the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, which determined that the birthright for US citizenship does not extend to unincorporated territories.

Wondering what an unincorporated US territory is? Only American Samoa meets the definition. Despite being a territory since 1900, American Samoa remains the sole US territory where the people are not eligible for full US passports, to vote in US elections, to run for public office or even serve as officers in the US military.

The strange gray area in which American Samoans find themselves can negatively affect those who have helped the US the most. One plaintiff in the suit, Fanuatanu Mamea, is a decorated Vietnam War veteran who served for 20 years. However, he was denied the ability to serve in the Special Forces because he was a “non-citizen national,” as American Samoans are legally considered, according to the We The People Project.

Emy Afalava is another US Army veteran, who served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Despite his 15 years in the military, he was denied the ability to vote in federal and state elections.

Then there is Va’aleama Fosi, who spent more than 10 years serving in the US Army and the Hawaii Army National Guard, but learned that his status as a “non-citizen national” prevented him from participating in federal work-study programs and federal employment opportunities.

Taffy-lei Maene worked at the Washington State Department of Licensing, but when her citizenship status was discovered, she lost her job and her health insurance.

For what it’s worth, the government of American Samoa defends the status quo by claiming that a change would come at the cost of various traditional cultural practices, such as communal land ownership, NBC News reported.