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Birthright citizenship should apply to U.S. Territories

American Samoans in Utah file suit, citing 14th amendment

Neil Weare

It's the 150th Anniversary of the Fourteenth Amendment, which constitutionalized America’s common-law guarantee of birthright citizenship. The Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted to overturn the Supreme Court’s infamous Dred Scott decision and enshrine an individual right to citizenship by birth on U.S soil not subject to legislative whims. Yet in 2018, the Trump Administration is rejecting the original meaning of the Citizenship Clause to argue that Americans born in U.S. territories have no constitutional right to citizenship.

Now, a group of passport-holding, tax-paying Americans living in Utah who are denied recognition as citizens because they were born in American Samoa are pushing back, filing a reply to the government’s arguments in Fitisemanu v. United States, a federal lawsuit they recently filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah. Relying on the text, history, and purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Fitisemanu plaintiffs reject the government’s view that the question of citizenship by birth in American Samoa or other U.S. territories is left up to Congress rather than guaranteed by the Constitution. They also criticize the government’s unwarranted reliance on the Insular Cases, a series of controversial early 1900s Supreme Court decisions grounded in discredited racial stereotypes.

“The Trump Administration’s reliance on Supreme Court opinions that refer to the inhabitants of U.S. territories as ‘savages’ who are ‘absolutely unfit to receive [citizenship]’ as a basis to deny the Constitution’s guarantee of birthright citizenship in U.S. territories today is astounding,” said Neil Weare, president and founder of Equally American, a non-profit organization that advocates for equality and civil rights on behalf of those living or born in U.S. terr