American Samoa legislature supports territorial government and Amata in citizenship lawsuit

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PAGO PAGO (Samoa News) — In a unanimous 15-0 vote, the American Samoan Senate on Friday endorsed a House concurrent resolution, expressing the territorial legislature’s support for U.S Congresswoman Aumua Amata’s move to reverse on appeal, a ruling issued last month by the federal court in Salt Lake City, Utah on the U.S citizenship lawsuit.

The Fono or legislative building of American Samoa in Fagatogo.  File photo

Introduced by House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale and approved by the House on 14 January, the decision states that the Fono — the bicameral territorial legislature — “endorses and joins efforts” by Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga and the congresswoman “in appealing and seeking reversal” by the federal appeal’s court “the erroneous decision” in a ruling by the Salt Lake City federal court based on a lawsuit filed by three American Samoans residing in Utah.

The decision points to a ruling more than four years ago by the federal court in Washington D.C. where an identical lawsuit was dismissed and the dismissal upheld by the D.C. appeal’s court.

In that case, the judge ruled, among other things, that Congress has the authority to extend citizenship to outlying U.S territories, including American Samoa, where the right to citizenship is not given at birth.

On Dec. 12 last year, the U.S District Court Judge Clark Waddoups in Salt Lake City ruled that since the plaintiffs were born in American Samoa, a U.S territory, they are automatic U.S. citizens in accordance with the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

John Fitisemanu, Pale Tuli and Rosavita Tuli, who were born in the territory but currently live in Utah, sued the federal government in March of last year on the grounds that they’re owed citizenship status under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

The following day, on Dec. 13, Judge Waddoups put his ruling on hold until the appeal process is completed.

The Washington, D.C.-based law firm representing ASG and the congresswoman told Samoa News they are moving forward with the appeal.

Congresswoman Aumua Amata said she appreciates decisive and unanimous action by American Samoa’s legislature, which shows strong support from American Samoa’s elected officials who are behind the right of self-determination on the citizenship question and regard for the traditions of Fa’a Samoa.

“This resolution is an important statement by our Fono that establishes the public position of the territory,” said Aumua Amata. “It helps clarify that the people of American Samoa, as reflected in their elected officials across the board, deeply value our rights in relationship with the United States. We’re so proud to be a part of the United States, and our people have a rich tradition of service in the U.S. Armed Forces. We also value our distinctive and ancient culture, and we have the right of self-determination to safeguard that culture. The Fono has formally expressed those sentiments in this resolution,” said Congresswoman Aumua Amata.