No Birthright Citizenship for American Samoans

Birthright Citizenship: Supreme Court Turns Down Review for American Samoans

The Supreme Court turned down an appeal yesterday, meaning that the justices will not review an appeals court ruling that only Congress, not courts, can change the law that birth in the American Samoa does not confer US citizenship. A law passed in 1900 declared that individuals born in the American Samoa are US nationals but not US citizens. The 1900 law reflected the ethos of its time: Supreme Court ruled that people in the newly acquired U.S. territories were not entitled to all the constitutional rights of American citizens. Justice Henry Brown said the “development of the American empire” could be set back by the “annexation of distant possessions,” which are “inhabited by alien races.”

Five American Samoans pointed to the 14th Amendment in bringing their case, which confers birthright citizenship to individuals born in the United States. Other territories of the US received birthright citizenship in the 20th century, but American Samoans remain without it.

Birthright citizenship was enshrined in the 14th Amendment, which is one of the three post-Civil War amendments. The purpose of birthright citizenship is to ensure all individuals born in the United States are citizens, rather than creating classes of citizenship, such as that which existed antebellum.

Children & Unauthorized Parents

Children of Removed Parents

Front and center of the primary election campaigns of presidential hopefuls is the issue of unauthorized immigration. Estimates of unauthorized migrants in the United States range from 11-12 million individuals. They come from all over the world, but much of the attention falls upon people from Central American countries, who are often escaping poverty, civil wars, gang warfare, and

The George W. Bush administration removed millions of unauthorized individuals and the Obama administration was record-setting in its number of removals. The current administration attempted to re-prioritize the removal system in November of last year through executive actions. Part of the revamp was instituting Deferred Action for Parents of Americans. This program was judicially nixed before started receiving applications. The purpose behind it was family unity.

A motivation behind DAPA was that over 5 million children are living without authorized parents. That means they are constantly living in threat of losing one or both parents. The children are American by virtue of birthright citizenship, another issue that has become a lightning rod in primary election politics. Two studies have been conducted by the Migration Policy Institute and Urban Institute with assistance from DHS and ICE. The Washington Post has summarized the results. They cover what happens to the children of parents who have been removed from the United States.

Happy Constitution Day!

Happy Constitution Day

Today, September 17, the United States celebrates Constitution Day. It commemorates the fact that the US Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787 (ratified in 1788). Schools across the country celebrate the day by holding civic-minded events. James Madison is known as the author of the charter. He would later become the Secretary of State and our fourth president. He has both a university and many states have a ‘Madison County’ in honor of him. The original Constitution resides in the National Archives Building.

The Constitution was not the first law of the land. Once the colonies defeated the British in the Revolutionary War, the government they created was a loose federation of semi-autonomous nation states. The thirteen colonies became thirteen states, but the adopted Articles of Confederation were inappropriate to forming a cohesive nation. Each state had its own currency and laws that made commerce, travel, and coexistence difficult. The amount and types of power that the federal government should exercise versus individual state autonomy is an issue that remains contentious and inherent to American political thought in the present.

The Constitution initially contained ten Amendments, known as the Bill of Rights. As the Constitution was being drafted, Federalists and anti-Federalists argued over the nature of the new political system. Federalists, such as Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton demanded a stronger central government that could control finances. Anti-federalists, such as Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, were weary of a strong federal government, feeling that the Revolutionary War’s purpose was to overthrow faraway central power in favor of local governance. The Bill of Rights can be viewed as a limitation of the government’s power, in homage to the wishes of the anti-Federalists.

While the Bill of Rights were signed on September 17, 1787, the Fourteen Amendment was not ratified until July 9, 1868. Along with the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, they are known as the Civil War amendments. The Fourteenth Amendment contains many powers – due process, equal protection, privileges or immunities. It also contains the Citizenship Clause, granting birthright citizenship. By merely being born in the United States, a person is a United States citizen. There is no lineage issue of worrying about parental heritage or citizenship. Two foreign nationals can give birth to an American. That by itself does not lead to any immigration benefits to the parents. Birthright citizenship has been a cornerstone of American law for nearly 150 years. It has become a hotrod issue in American politics, as some candidates have harangued the concept as detrimental and as something to abolish. Candidates whose platforms include immigration restriction often target it as an unnecessary benefit that rewards unauthorized migrants for giving birth in the US.

Take a Constitution Quiz

Citizenship Quizzes

Constitution Facts