- Associated Press - Sunday, February 1, 2015

HAGATNA, Guam (AP) - A federal appeals court in the nation’s capital is scheduled to hear oral arguments Feb. 9 in a case related to the citizenship rights of residents of American Samoa.

Unlike the territory of Guam, those born in American Samoa are not considered U.S. citizens.

At issue is the fact residents of the territories do not have the same rights as residents in the rest of the United States. Congress over the decades has passed laws giving only specific rights to the individual territories, such as the Organic Act of Guam.

Former Guam resident Neil Weare, president of the “We the People Project,” in 2013 filed a lawsuit in the federal court in Washington, D.C., on behalf of American Samoans, arguing they’ve been denied their right to be U.S. citizens.

The court threw out the case, but Weare appealed, and the circuit court ruled some of the issues in the case could move forward.

It’s hoped that having the courts clarify the citizenship rights of the 4.7 million people living in the territories also will help clarify the constitutional relationship between the United States and its territories, Weare has said.

One of the goals of the federal legal battle is to obtain full representation in Congress, where Guam currently has a non-voting delegate. It’s an issue important to individual rights and control of our own economy, Weare has said.

In addition to the American Samoa case, the “We the People Project” has announced plans to file a lawsuit related to the inability of U.S. citizens living on Guam to vote for president of the United States. It has been gathering information from residents on its website in connection with the proposed lawsuit.

According to an order issued this week by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, oral arguments in the American Samoa case will be heard at 9:30 a.m. Feb. 9, before Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown and Senior Circuit Judges Laurence Silberman and David Sentelle.

Attorneys representing the residents who filed the lawsuit will have 20 minutes to speak, and attorneys representing the U.S. government will have 10 minutes, followed by 10 minutes for attorneys representing the American Samoa government, the order states.

The United States has argued against birthright citizenship for American Samoa residents, as has the American Samoa government.

The U.S. State Department has argued that the U.S. territories are not “states” and therefore do not have the same rights as states — only those specifically granted by laws passed by Congress.

The American Samoa government has argued that automatic U.S. citizenship could undermine local traditions and practices, including land ownership rights that are restricted only to those of Samoan ancestry.

It also has argued that becoming U.S. citizens should be a choice for American Samoa residents instead of being mandated.

The U.S. Congress has the power to decide how people become naturalized citizens of the country, but it can’t restrict birthright citizenship for those born under the U.S. flag because it’s a “fundamental right,” according to an attorney representing the residents who filed the lawsuit.

Several high-profile Guam residents, including former Gov. Carl Gutierrez, Guam Del. Madeleine Bordallo, and former Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Areas Tony Babauta, last May submitted testimony in support of the American Samoa residents who filed the lawsuit.

Gutierrez, in a written statement, said, “Nearly 600 soldiers from Guam recently returning home from Afghanistan, in fact, more than 125,000 veterans call a U.S. territory home. It’s about time the federal government stops arguing that Guam and these other territories aren’t really part of the United States when it comes to important rights and benefits.”

Bordallo, in a written statement, said, “So long as Guam and other U.S. territories are part of the United States, citizenship by birth should be recognized as a right guaranteed by the Constitution, not a mere privilege extended by Congress.”

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Information from: Pacific Daily News: https://www.guampdn.com


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