Michael Levenson at NYT:
Since 1900, American Samoans have pledged allegiance to the United States and followed its laws. Yet they have not been automatically granted citizenship at birth, which left many unable to vote and ineligible for certain government jobs.
On Thursday, a federal judge ruled that American Samoans should be granted United States citizenship and ordered the government to issue them passports reflecting that status. The judge, Clark Waddoups of United States District Court in Utah, cited the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to any child born in the United States.
The decision reignited a century-long debate about the citizenship status of people born in the territories of the United States. But it is likely just one shot in a continuing legal battle. On Friday, Judge Waddoups stayed his ruling until the case is resolved on appeal.
Practically speaking, that means American Samoans will not be able to register to vote or be granted passports reflecting their status as citizens until a higher court weighs in, said Neil C. Weare, the president and founder of the Equally American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which filed the lawsuit for American Samoans seeking citizenship.
American Samoa, about 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii in the South Pacific, is the only territory of the United States whose residents are not automatically granted citizenship at birth. The other territories, including Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have been granted citizenship by acts of Congress. But American Samoans are classified as “noncitizen nationals” and their passports carry a disclaimer: “The bearer is a United States national and not a United States citizen.”