Individuals born in the U.S. territory of American Samoa are not automatically U.S. citizens at birth, a key court ruled Friday.
In a unanimous 23-page decision, judges with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit voiced sympathy for the individuals who seek birthright citizenship for the noblest of reasons. Nonetheless, judges said, their hands were tied.
“We hold it impractical and anomalous to impose citizenship by judicial fiat, where doing so requires us to override the democratic prerogatives of the American Samoan people themselves,” Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote for the three-judge epanel.
The South Pacific islands of American Samoa have been a United States territory since 1900. Brown noted that it is “partially self-governed, possessing a popularly elected bicameral legislature and similarly elected governor.” The Secretary of the Interior is the ultimate overseer.
An individual born in the territory is classifed as a “non-citizen national.” But as Brown noted, the American Samoan people “have not formed a collective consensus” in favor of U.S. citizenship. Some American Samoan leaders have voiced concern that automatic U.S. citizenship would bring new challenges to the territory’s cultural practices.
“We are skeptical the framers plainly intended to extend birthright citizenship to distinct, significantly self-governing political territories within the United States’s sphere of sovereignty—even where, as is the case with American Samoa, ultimate governance remains statutorily vested with the United States Government,” Brown wrote.