Tribal Chiefs Win: No Automatic Citizenship for Samoans

By David North on June 11, 2015

A few months ago, I wrote about the odd fact that American Samoa's tribal chiefs and elected politicians all wanted to deny U.S. citizenship for Samoans born in those islands; they wanted to preserve the status quo. The Samoans are now U.S. nationals, which is something just short of citizenship.

Keeping things the same, among other things, preserves the matai system of traditional governance and does not threaten the power of the tribal leaders. The chiefs, in turn, control the upper house of the territorial legislature.

A group of Samoans sued in the federal district court in Washington, D.C., seeking citizenship on the grounds that the people involved had been born on U.S. soil; they lost at the trial court level and then appealed to the U.S. Circuit.

Last Friday, three circuit court judges rejected the advocates' argument, and said that the U.S. nationals could not be converted to U.S. citizens by court decision. Congress, they said, has the sole right to make that decision.

U.S. nationals are free to migrate to the mainland, but they cannot vote, cannot own guns in some places, and are not eligible for citizen-only jobs. There is a naturalization process open to them, but most nationals have not used it.