On Thursday, a federal judge in Utah ordered the federal government to recognize birthright citizenship to the people of American Samoa — a potentially massive victory for territorial civil rights.
“This court is not imposing ‘citizenship by judicial fiat.’ The action is required by the mandate of the Fourteenth Amendment as construed and applied by Supreme Court precedent,” wrote Judge Clark Waddoups, an appointee of George W. Bush, in his decision.
The United States has several outlying territories. Initially they were not considered to have automatic citizenship in the United States, even though their homes are considered U.S. soil. Over the years, Congress has passed laws granting automatic citizenship to the residents of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands — but no such law was ever passed for American Samoa, meaning that its people have been classified as “U.S. nationals” rather than citizens.
This distinction means that even though American Samoans pay federal taxes and serve in the military, they lack certain rights that people born anywhere else in America are granted automatically. They cannot vote, run for office, serve on federal juries, and they must obtain a U.S. passport to travel to the mainland.
It is unclear whether the Waddoups’ order applies to all American Samoans, or just those living in Utah.