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Trump Suggests Ending Birthright Citizenship As American Samoans Seek That Right

Photo of a Samoan man in a suit and a lei in front of government building.
Courtesy Equally American
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John Fitisemanu is an American Samoan living in Woods Cross, Utah. He and other American Samoans in the U.S. are listed as U.S. nationals, not citizens.

As President Donald Trump pushes to end birthright citizenship for U.S.-born children of immigrants who are not citizens, a federal court case filed in Utah that seeks to expand that exact right for American Samoans is heating up.

Located in the South Pacific, American Samoa is a U.S. territory but American Samoans are not automatically U.S. citizens. Instead, they are labeled as U.S. nationals, which means they don’t enjoy the same privileges as U.S. citizens, including the right to vote. They also miss out on job opportunities that are only available to U.S. citizens.

A group of American Samoans living in Utah want to change that. John Fitisemanu, Pale and Rosavita Tuli and the Southern Utah Pacific Islander Coalition sued the U.S. government back in March to change that. The federal government’s historic stance on citizenship for American Samoans is not too different from Trump’s idea, said Neil Weare, the plaintiffs’ lawyer.

Photo of John Fitisemanu.
Credit Courtesy Equally American
John Fitisemanu holds his passport which lists him as a U.S. national.

“I cannot understand how I can be a passport-holding American, but not be recognized as a U.S. citizen,” John Fitisemanu said in a statement. “This isn’t just unfair, it’s unconstitutional.”

The 14th Amendment states that all people that are born in the United States and under the country’s jurisdiction are citizens. The plaintiffs argue that as a territory, American Samoa is under U.S. jurisdiction, so they should therefore be U.S. citizens.

“What President Trump is proposing to do has already happened before and has resulted in the denial of citizenship to a group of Americans, people born in U.S. soil for more than 100 years raises some troubling concerns today,” said Weare, who is also the president and cofounder of the nonprofit Equally American.

Oral arguments in the American Samoans’ case will be heard November 14 in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.

The Justice Department did not immediately return a call for comment. It will be the first time government attorneys argue against birthright citizenship in federal court under the Trump Administration, Weare said.

“It will be interesting to see what they say and how, if it all, any of these recent developments may impact their views in our case,” Weare said.

The Immigration Reform Law Institute, a nonprofit organization seeking to reduce both legal and illegal immigration, has joined the discussion. It filed an amicus curiae briefs in the case that neither supports nor opposes the plaintiffs. The Samoan government has also joined the case as a defendant.

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