In a decision citing American Samoa cultural traditions, those born in the U.S. territory shouldn’t have citizenship automatically forced on them, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling reverses a lower court ruling that sided with three people from American Samoa who live in Utah and sued to be recognized as citizens. The judge ruled the Utah residents are entitled to birthright citizenship under the 14th Amendment. He then put his ruling on hold pending appeal.
U.S. Congress should play a bigger role than the courts in deciding citizenship for those in territories, the appeals court ruling said.
American Samoa is the only unincorporated territory of the United States where the inhabitants are not American citizens at birth.
Instead, those born in the cluster of islands some 2,600 miles (4,184 kilometers) southwest of Hawaii are granted “U.S. national” status, meaning they can’t vote for U.S. president, run for office outside American Samoa or apply for certain jobs. The only federal election they can cast a vote in is the race for American Samoa’s nonvoting U.S. House seat.