“American” Samoans Want US Citizenship
“Non-citizen nationals” – a very small group of “Americans”. Anyone born in a state of the United States is a citizen under the 14th Amendment. Almost everyone else born in sovereign US territory (Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam) has citizenship at birth by statute. The only folks who don’t have citizenship at birth are those born in American Samoa and the Swains Islands, and they’re now challenging that fact in court (here is Ashby Jones’s account in the WSJ).
The status has its drawbacks. As highlighted in the complaint, as non-citizen nationals, Samoan Americans 1) can’t vote, even when resident in the US, 2) are ineligible for some public sector jobs (even some open to permanent resident aliens), and 3) can’t serve as officers in the US armed forces.
This is an anomaly — only 55,000 people live in American Samoa — and it’s something Congress should fix. There’s no apparent downside to extending citizenship to these people (who are as nationals permitted to immigrate to the US – even naturalize as citizens, through the ordinary process).
The lawsuit will bring some attention to the problem. In the meantime, it has little chance of success in the courts. The plaintiffs are up against a clear historical interpretation of the Citizenship Clause extending it to so-called incorporated territories only. To the extent that they’re making out an equal protection claim (why Guam and not us?) it comes up against Congress’ plenary powers over the territories. Not that any of this makes sense in a world in which “citizen” and “national” are otherwise basically synonymous.