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Citizen status for Samoans

Many people born on American soil do not have American citizenship rights from birth like all people within the continental United States enjoy. For those born in American Samoa, a group of islands located approximately 2,500 miles from Hawaii, this is their reality. 

People born in other U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam, attain U.S. citizenship from birth. However, in Samoa, people only become citizens at birth if at least one of their parents are citizens. Otherwise, they will have to go through the same immigration process as everyone else. 

Why is this the case?

The United States claimed Samoa in 1900, and official law claims Samoa to be an "outlying possession" of the country. The islands' status comes from an anachronistic law that differentiated Samoa from other territories that would soon become actual states, such as New Mexico and Arizona. Justices in the courts at the time did not want to extend citizenship status to what they saw as "uncivilized races."

What is the downside of this?

Since Samoans are not U.S. citizens by birth, they cannot attain certain jobs. This also makes matters more difficult when a Samoan needs to travel to the continental United States, or any other country for that matter. Samoans, despite being born on American soil, do not have all the same rights every other American citizen is able to enjoy. 

Will this case ever resolve itself?

It does not appear as though Samoans will attain citizenship by birth any time soon. A group of Samoans filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration several years ago. They argued the federal government violated their constitutional rights to have citizenship, but the courts shot it down on the basis of those laws made many decades ago. Some Samoans do not want a change, believing a change would violate the islands' cultural autonomy. 

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