A federal judge in the state of Utah ruled that those born in American Samoa are considered U.S. citizens and should be issued a new passport that reflects that.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups declared that people born in American Samoa are considered U.S. citizens under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Huffington Post reported.
The 14th Amendment grants anyone born in the U.S. citizenship.
“This court is not imposing ‘citizenship by judicial fiat.’ The action is required by the mandate of the Fourteenth Amendment as construed and applied by Supreme Court precedent,” Judge Waddoups said in the ruling, according to CNN. “Further, Plaintiffs are American Samoans. They brought this action seeking to realize their rights to citizenship under the Fourteenth Amendment,”
“It’s an overwhelming victory but it’s the first step in what will likely be several more steps,” Neil Weare, attorney for the plaintiffs and the president and founder of the non-profit Equally American, said.
The Supreme Court reportedly declined to reconsider a ruling in 2016 at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, stating that the constitution does not confer citizenship on those born in American Samoa.
However, Steve Vladeck, a contributor for CNN and a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, said the Utah district is not bound by the District of Columbia Circuit, which allows it to disagree. It could also have the potential to create a circuit split if a different court affirms the decision, he continued.
The suit was brought to the court by American Samoans living in Utah in 2018. They argued that being a “non-citizen nationals” instead of being U.S. citizens have prevented them from having many opportunities, such as employment and voting, among other rights offered to citizens.
Their passports also have a disclaimer that states, “The bearer is a United States national and not a United States citizen.”
“It doesn’t feel very good when the federal government says you’re American, but not quite the same as other Americans, just a little bit different. Just being able to say they’re real American citizens, I think that goes a long way, in addition to being able to vote,” Weare said.
American Samoa, a group of islands located in the Pacific, has a population of around 55,000. It has been a U.S. territory since 1900. All people born in the other U.S. territories, specifically Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam and the Northern Marianas, all get citizenship at birth, but not American Samoa.
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