John Fitisemanu, one of three American Samoans in Utah who named in the court case, holds up a passport issued to American Samoans that states the bear is "a United States National and not a United States citizen." Photo courtesy of Equally American/Website
Dec. 12 (UPI) -- A federal judge ruled Thursday that American Samoans in Utah are U.S. citizens under the constitution and should be issued new passports that say so.
U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups ruled in favor of a case filed in March 2018 by non-profit Southern Utah Pacific Island Coalition on behalf of three American Samoans arguing their designation as nationals and not as citizens violates the 14th Amendment of the constitution that ensures citizenship to "all persons born or naturalized in the United States."
In his 69-page decision, Waddoups said "persons born in American Samoa are citizens of the United States by virtue of the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment" and any State Department policy that does not recognize this is in violation of the constitution.
The government had argued that "imposition of citizenship by judicial fiat" fails to recognize Samoa's sovereignty and violates principles of self-determination.
Waddoups rebutted that it isn't citizenship by fiat but citizenship by birth mandated through the Constitution.
"Further, plaintiffs are American Samoans. They brought this action seeking to realize their rights to citizenship under the Fourteen Amendment. Intervenors cannot be said to represent the will of all American Samoans," he said.
Waddoups also ordered for the plaintiffs to receive new passports that declare they are citizens of the United States and not nationals.
"This is a big day for the Constitution and it's a big day of the American Samoan community that has been marginalized in Utah as a result of these congressional actions over the years," said Neil Weare, an attorney with Equality America, who represented the three plaintiffs. "There's thousands of American Samoans that live in Utah who yesterday were prohibited under federal law from being eligible to vote and today they are eligible to vote."
Since 1900, American Samoa has been a U.S. territory and those born there did not receive citizenship by birth as those born in other territories, such as Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands did.