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Preserve choice but simplify citizenship for U.S. nationals

Greg Nash

Once again, an effort is under way to mandate U.S. citizenship for the people of American Samoa, however, most of the people want a choice, not a mandate. There are sound cultural and traditional reasons for the current circumstance, under which most of our people are born as U.S. Nationals, and become citizens if they so choose later.

For starters, the Hill’s headline “American Samoa residents sue for citizenship” is not accurate. Court documents reflect that the plaintiffs in the case are not residents of American Samoa but were born there and are now residents of the State of Utah. That said, I support those whose particular circumstances compel them to seek citizenship so I’ve proposed legislation simplifying the process for those U.S. nationals who choose the citizenship path, whether they live in American Samoa or not.

{mosads}U.S. nationals living in American Samoa should continue to have the freedom to remain U.S. nationals or seek citizenship, as their personal circumstances dictate. For those who move to other parts of the country or join the military, citizenship is often attractive or useful, and since they are already nationals from a U.S. territory, they should have the easiest, simplest process possible to become U.S. citizens.

It’s important to know that American Samoans are enthusiastically part of the United States, highly patriotic, and in fact, our people have the nation’s highest rate of Army enlistment per capita. As such, we also have a high population of veterans living in the territory, and the high rate of service in the U.S. Armed Forces is a source of pride in American Samoa.

The sentiment in the islands is a deep concern that a blanket declaration of citizenship for everyone in or from American Samoa would take away their choice and is not the right approach for our Territory.

A few years ago, a District Court Judge in the case titled Tuaua v. United States, rejected these same arguments. The DC Court of Appeals rejected these theories again, ruling by a 3-0 margin and the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal on the case. The majority of the elected and traditional leaders in American Samoa filed briefs in opposition to the plaintiffs attempt at a universal citizenship mandate for American Samoans, fully expressing the broad sentiment of the people of American Samoa and the courts to date have unanimously agreed with that majority of the populace.

With that in mind, I very much understand that American Samoans who relocate to the states have a real and different need for a better route to citizenship, and I’ve proposed legislation that makes sensible improvements. Far too many mainland employers don’t understand that a national has the right be treated exactly as a Citizen on employment matters, and that’s frustrating, so I sympathize deeply with those concerns.

Fortunately, a balanced approach is available. Let individual U.S. Nationals decide for themselves while making the citizenship process much easier and less costly specifically for U.S. nationals who choose to take the citizenship route. This avoids a mandatory road that everyone is required to go down.

Instead, my bipartisan legislation, HR 5026, pending in the House Judiciary Committee, protects the Samoan cultural and traditional way of life, Fa’a Samoa, by preserving individual choice, but it removes cost, travel and testing impediments such as the need to move to another jurisdiction to apply for citizenship, and it allows for hardship waivers on a case-by-case basis for application fees based on our economic realities that can be a significant challenge.

In sum, a simpler more cost-effective citizenship process is needed for those U.S. nationals seeking citizenship wherever they reside in the country, but the people should retain this choice and not have change dictated through a mandate of the court. Instead, let’s streamline the citizenship process for U.S. nationals and not force a one-size-fits-all approach on everyone.

Aumua Amata Radewagen represents American Samoa.

Tags American Samoa Aumua Amata Radewagen

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