The Only U.S. Territory Without U.S. Birthright Citizenship

The Constitution seems straightforward when it says, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” Generally, it’s accurate — but not if you’re born in American Samoa. The territory, which has been held by the United States for more than 120 years and is some 2,600 miles southwest of Hawaii, celebrates “Flag Day” every April. It’s the most important holiday of the year, commemorating its 5 islands and 2 coastal atolls becoming part of the United States. If they choose to leave their homeland, they can live anywhere they choose in the United States and can even hold American passports. They aren’t, however, considered American citizens. Instead, American Samoans are U.S. “nationals” — a small but significant distinction that precludes them from voting, running for office, and holding jobs in a selection of fields, including law enforcement. They can become citizens after moving to the mainland, but the process is long, requires passing a history test, and costs at least $725 (before legal fees) without any guarantee of success. A handful of American Samoans living in the United States have attempted to challenge the status quo, but with no success.