Immigration and Citizenship

Tuaua v. United States

At issue in Tuaua v. United States was the Constitution’s guarantee of citizenship at birth and the constitutionality of federal laws and policies that deny U.S. citizenship to persons born in the U.S. territory of American Samoa.

Case Summary

On July 10, 2012, Constitutional Accountability Center filed Tuaua v. United States in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking to vindicate the Constitution’s guarantee of citizenship at birth and contesting the constitutionality of federal laws and policies that deny U.S. citizenship to persons born in the U.S. territory of American Samoa. The lawsuit was filed by CAC, the law firm of Arnold & Porter LLP, and prominent American Samoa attorney Charles V. Ala’ilima, on behalf of Leneuoti Tuaua and other individuals born in American Samoa, as well as the Samoan Federation of America.

American Samoa has been a part of the United States for more than a century. Nonetheless, current federal law classifies persons born in American Samoa as so-called “non-citizen nationals” – the only Americans so classified – thus denying the plaintiffs their birthright citizenship guaranteed by the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It is also the U.S. State Department’s policy to imprint a disclaimer in the plaintiffs’ passports that reads: “THE BEARER IS A UNITED STATES NATIONAL AND NOT A UNITED STATES CITIZEN.” As a result, the plaintiffs and others born in American Samoa are denied the same rights and benefits as other Americans who are recognized as citizens, including the right to vote, the right to apply for and hold many jobs and the right to bear arms.

The government moved to dismiss the Complaint, contending that the Citizenship Clause does not apply to persons born in “unincorporated” territories, and we filed an extensive brief in opposition to this motion. On December 17, 2012, Judge Richard Leon held a hearing on the motion to dismiss, at the conclusion of which he called the case “truly novel and interesting.” Nonetheless, on June 26, 2013, Judge Leon granted the government’s motion and dismissed the case, holding that “unincorporated territories” like American Samoa are not within the “United States” for purposes of the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and that persons born in American Samoa therefore are not entitled to constitutional citizenship at birth.

Case Timeline

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