Citizens of nowhere

Link to Original Article from Asian Journal


AFTER patiently waiting for more than 100 years for the government to provide them with automatic citizenship rights, the American Samoan community has filed suit against the US Government. Our nation’s almost 300,000 American Samoans have demanded what should have been granted long ago, automatic and full US citizenship rights. These rights already exist for all those born in other US territories such as Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam.

Today, American Samoans are treated as second class citizens—only this might be a favorable exaggeration because in reality, American Samoans are citizens of nowhere.

It is time for 18 million Asian American Pacific Islanders to rise up and support our community. Had all Asian Americans joined together, it is possible that 100,000 Japanese Americans citizens would never have been incarcerated in internment camps during the Second World War. And, had we worked together, it is unlikely that many of the atrocities perpetrated against Chinese Americans for almost 100 years would have occurred.

One example of our government’s arbitrary and discriminatory policy against American Samoans is Mr. Leneuoti Tuaua. While living in California, he registered for the military draft and also took the entrance exams at the California Highway Patrol and the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office. However, since he was not an automatic citizen, he was considered ineligible to serve as a law enforcement officer.

Ms. Taffy-lei Maene, another American Samoan, lost her job with the State of Washington’s Department of Licensing because she was not recognized as an automatic citizen even though she had already performed her job for a year. Ms.Maene also cannot properly care for her mother because she is restricted from sponsoring her mother to live with her in Seattle.

Our country must recognize the sacrifices made by Samoans in our military. Many American Samoans have been in the military service without being able to vote. This November, they will be denied the right to choose their commander-in-chief between President Obama and Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney. Fanuatanu Mamea, for example, enlisted in the US Army in 1964 and was seriously injured in Vietnam, but he is denied many benefits available to US citizens. And, even though he served in the US Army, he was not permitted to join the US Special Forces because of his non-citizenship.

American Samoa is a part of the United States and American Samoans are an important and integral part of the Asian American community in the United States. Artificial technicalities that have denied them automatic citizenship for so long should be abolished by Congress or eventually by the US Supreme Court. In doing so, we should ensure that we protect, preserve and honor the rich Samoan history and tradition of communal laws that are an important part of America’s deep democratic spirit.

This court case should be the subject of the presidential debates this fall and all Asian Americans should support American Samoans’ citizenship rights and take the position, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”

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Faith Bautista is President and CEO of the National Asian American Coalition, a pan Asian American advocacy and empowerment organization that focuses on home ownership and small business development.

Shalini Swaroop is senior attorney for the National Asian American Coalition and spent one year living in American Samoa as a law clerk for the High Court of American Samoa.  She is familiar with the extraordinary history and achievements of the American Samoan community.

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