Immigration and Citizenship

Constitutional Accountability Center Files Case Challenging the Denial of Constitutional Citizenship to Persons Born in American Samoa

Trial Court Litigation Breaks New Ground in CAC’s Work to Promote the Constitution’s Text and History

Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, Constitutional Accountability Center filed litigation in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia seeking to vindicate the Constitution’s guarantee of citizenship at birth, 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 today by CAC, the law firm of Arnold & Porter LLP and preeminent 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. The case also breaks new ground for CAC: it is the first time CAC has brought trial court litigation.


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 constitutional 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 American Samoans bringing this challenge have compelling accounts of the hardships associated with their second-class status as “non-citizen nationals”:


*  Leneuoti Tuaua is a retired public safety officer and former Marshal for the High Court of American Samoa, who was born in American Samoa and lives there now.  Mr. Tuaua attended college in California and resided there during the late 1960s and early 1970s.  While he was living in California, he was permitted to register for the military draft during the Vietnam War period, but as a “non-citizen national” he was denied the right to vote and the opportunity to serve as a police officer in the state.  Mr. Tuaua wants his children to be recognized as citizens and have opportunities that were denied to him.


*  Va’aleama Fosi was born in American Samoa and currently lives in Honolulu, Hawaii.  He served for more than a decade in the U.S. Army Reserves and the Hawaii Army National Guard.  While in college in Hawaii, Mr. Fosi learned that as a “non-citizen national,” he was ineligible for federal work study programs and certain other federal employment opportunities.  His “non-citizen national” status currently prevents him from enjoying rights available to other persons born in the United States, including the right to vote and the right to bear arms. 


*  Fanuatanu Mamea is a decorated Vietnam War veteran who served in the U.S. Army from 1964 until he was honorably discharged in 1984.  Early in his military career, Mr. Mamea was denied the opportunity to serve in the Special Forces because of his status as a “non-citizen national.”  In later years when stationed on the U.S. mainland, he was denied the right to vote in state and federal elections.  Mr. Mamea now lives in Tafuna, American Samoa, but at times needs to travel to Hawaii to receive treatment for his combat injuries at a Veterans Hospital.  U.S. immigration law makes it more difficult for him to sponsor his wife, a foreign national, to join him on these medical visits than if he were recognized as a citizen. He brings this suit on behalf of himself and his three young children.


*  Taffy-lei Maene was born in American Samoa and currently lives in Seattle, Washington.  Because the U.S. Government refuses to recognize Ms. Maene as a citizen, she lost her job at the Washington State Department of Licensing, depriving her of income and health insurance.  The U.S. Government’s classification of Ms. Maene as a “non-citizen national” has also deterred her from applying for other jobs requiring proof of citizenship, denied her the right to vote, deprived her of the ability to sponsor her mother’s application for an immigration visa, and prevented her from obtaining an enhanced Washington State driver’s license. 


*  Emy Afalava is a long-serving, decorated veteran of the U.S. Army who currently lives in Tafuna, American Samoa.  During the course of his 15-year military career, Mr. Afalava was deployed as part of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, including service in the infantry during the Liberation of Kuwait.  Both during and after his military career, when Mr. Afalava lived in the continental United States, he was denied recognition as a U.S. citizen and consequently denied the rights of a citizen, including the right to vote in federal and state elections.


*  The Samoan Federation of America is a non-profit organization established in 1965 in Carson, California to advocate on behalf of Samoan communities in the continental United States.  The Samoan Federation is particularly knowledgeable about the burdens imposed by “non-citizen national” status upon American Samoans living on the mainland.  The Samoan Federation is directed by its President, Loa Pele Faletogo.


Neil Weare, CAC’s Litigation Counsel and Supreme Court Fellow, said, “The denial of constitutional citizenship to Leneuoti Tuaua and others born in American Samoa is a clear violation of the text and history of the Constitution’s Citizenship Clause.” Doug Kendall, President of Constitutional Accountability Center, added, “Constitutional Accountability Center is proud to file its first case to help protect the meaning of one of the Constitution’s most fundamental guarantees.”


Robert Katerberg, CAC’s co-counsel and a partner in the D.C. office of Arnold & Porter LLP, said, “We are gratified for the opportunity to serve our clients, who are Americans no less than the rest of us, in this profoundly important matter to vindicate fundamental constitutional rights.  Arnold & Porter has a long and proud tradition of providing pro bono legal representation.  In fact, the Firm’s lawyers have previously worked to establish the availability of other constitutional rights for American Samoans, and we are proud to carry that legacy forward in this historic case.”


Co-counsel Charles V. Ala’ilima added, “American Samoans serve in the United States military at the highest rate per capita of any U.S. state or territory, yet they are denied the fundamental right to citizenship.  This is not only wrong, it is unconstitutional.”