Tauese calls for Fono to take a stand on U.S. citizenship issue
by Fili Sagapolutele
Samoa News Correspondent
Governor Tauese Sunia disagrees with Congressman Faleomavaega Eni on issues relating to U.S. citizenship for American Samoans that the congressman has raised, and the governor is calling on the Fono to submit an official position to the U.S. Congress.
Tauese's position seems to support Senator S.E. Sala's view voiced last week, when he said that he is proud of being a U.S. national and Faleomavaega should leave the matter alone and let each individual person decide whether or not to become a U.S. citizen.
And while Faleomavaega respects Senator Sala's right to his opinion and would like to involve the public in a debate on the whole issue, the Congressman says calling his statements irresponsible, "is a little unfair on Senator Sala's part."
The governor raised the issue of U.S. citizenship when he addressed lawmakers last Thursday in a joint session of the Fono where he officially presented his State of the Territory Address.
Tauese said he believes the Fono should have an official position sent to Faleomavaega over the U.S. citizenship issue that the Congressman has publicly raised in the territory.
He said such matters affect the territory as a whole and should be discussed, because if it's not addressed now, it may be too late later.
"I believe the Fono should have an official position presented to our Delegate in Washington," Tauese told lawmakers last Thursday. Tauese said the issue is not new and it has already been addressed by our forefathers, and that is, that persons born in American Samoa remain U.S. Nationals.
He said there are a lot of reasons why persons born in American Samoa do not automatically become U.S. citizens while Senator Sala told the Samoa News last week that the each person has their own reasons for claiming U.S. citizenship.
The governor also disputes the statement by the Congressman that the communal land system will not be affected by becoming a U.S. citizen, noting that there is no such land system in the U.S., because under the U.S. constitution everyone has equal rights.
Tauese said the communal land system will be affected if American Samoa does not act now.
Tauese said that there are individuals who want to sell their land as individually owned land, but the law says it's the governor that has the last word on such matters and that's the reason why a lot of people dislike him.
Tauese said one of the governor's duties is to protect local lands for future generations.
"Let's work together, because if we loose our land, by selling it, then it will be of no use to future generations," he said. "Tell the truth, tell what we feel, don't hide our words," the Governor said.
The governor reminded lawmakers that in a town meeting held two years ago in preparation for the U.N. Decolonization Committee seminar in Cuba, a majority of local residents who attended, signed the resolution which clearly states that American Samoa wants to maintain its current political status with the United States of America.
Tauese warned the Fono to watch the political status of American Samoa, that it may slowly slip away, with no action taken by local leaders.
He suggested that not only the Fono send its official stand on U.S. Citizenship to Faleomavaega but also its stand on the current political status of American Samoa.
American Samoa's political status, along with the other remaining 15 colonies of the world named by the U.N. will be reviewed in a May, 2003 meeting of the U.N. Decolonization Committee.
The governor's position on the U.S. citizenship issue seems to be similar to Senator Sala's, voiced during an interview published in the Samoa News last week (Samoa News Mar. 19), after the Congressman addressed the Senate two weeks ago while in the territory.
Senator Sala said the statement made by Congressman Faleomavaega Eni saying that U.S. National status "means nothing" is unwarranted and uncalled for.
"I totally disagree with the Congressman and refute such statements. It's an unwarranted statement and uncalled for," said Senator Sala.
"Contrary to what the Congressman says, the U.S. national status means a lot for us," said Senator Sala.
He said U.S. national status allows American Samoans to maintain a dual identity, of not only being American Samoans, but also Americans.
Furthermore he said, it allows us to be Americans and while maintaining the matai title system and keeping communal land.
Senator Sala said, "We do not need U.S. citizenship enmass," noting that such an option is given to a person if they prefer it.
Faleomavaega had said on his radio and television programs that many people in the U.S. do not recognize U.S. national status and it does not mean anything to them.
Faleomavaega said he continues to encourage U.S. nationals who plan to reside in the U.S. to file the necessary papers with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) so they could become U.S. citizens.
He also plans to introduce federal legislation in Congress that would expedite the process for U.S. nationals residing in the U.S. who wish to become U.S. citizens.
The Congressman said in a telephone interview the day after Senator Sala's comments were published that the Senator needs to understand that being a U.S. national does not entitle that person to the same rights and privileges as a U.S. citizen, living in the U.S.
"And that is all I'm trying to say," Faleomavaega added and noted that there is no such thing as an American Samoan citizen.
Faleomavaega said it's a fact that U.S. nationals who become U.S. citizens do not lose their rights and privileges upon returning to American Samoa and getting involved with the matai system and living on communal family land.
Faleomavaega said he disagrees with Senator Sala saying that his statements were irresponsible.
"I want to remind Senator Sala that thousands of persons who are U.S. Citizens of other ethnic backgrounds living in the U.S. - such as Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans - can come to American Samoa and establish residence here. Two years thereafter they can run for political office and there is nothing to prevent them from running for such an office in our government," he said.
"I also suggest to Senator Sala, that a U.S. citizen, including those of ethnic backgrounds, can even challenge the constitutionality of the idea that Senators are selected through traditional means instead of popular election.
"It is for this simple reason, that as a U.S. citizen, under the equal rights clause of the constitution, those rights are being violated," he added.
Faleomavaega reiterated that federal laws and the U.S. constitution provides for equal rights "and it's something that is still hanging, and has not been brought yet before a court to be challenged."
"But it's very possible for a U.S. Citizen to challenge the way we select members of our Senate," he points out and disagrees with the notion that U.S. national status is fully guaranteed and cannot be challenged.
"Our people need to come to the reality that U.S. nationals in American Samoa are no different than U.S. citizens with different ethnic backgrounds who can come to the territory and live here, and they can also challenge our Senatorial selection," he said.
According to the Congressman, there was a case of a U.S. citizen of Hispanic ethnicity who almost filed a lawsuit for being disenfranchised after not having the opportunity to vote for a Senator in the territory.
He said this matter remains pending and it's the same issue being raised by a lot of people in the territory bringing into question the selection of local Senators.
"I have no problem with people wanting to continue their status as U.S. nationals. But the reality is, your rights in the United States, are not equal to U.S. citizens' rights," said the congressman.
"And all I suggest to our Senators, is that there is definitely a distinction there, and I speak from experience," he observed.
According to the Congressman he knows of U.S. nationals who resided in the U.S. and lived to regret not becoming U.S. citizens while some U.S. nationals are angry for not being treated as U.S. citizens.
"As a U.S. national a person is not qualified for some programs while living in the United States," Faleomavaega said again.
"I have no desire to change the political status of American Samoa, but only to point out the problems with which we are confronted, if we do not look at these issues seriously," said Faleomavaega. "Our people need to wake up and look at the difference from 50 years ago."
"These are the issues we've got to faced square on and decide on," he added.
Faleomavaega said he would like to have a public debate on this whole issue "but to call my statements irresponsible, uncalled for or for me to step down, is a little unfair on Senator Sala's part."
"I do however respect his view. Senator Sala might have a different opinion and he is entitled to it," said Faleomavaega of Senator Sala's statement.
"I do not apologize for the comments I made, because it's the best honest answer to questions being asked of me, about what does it mean to be a U.S. national," he points out.
Former AG says "NO" to federal district court in Territory
by Samoa News Staff
Former attorney general Tautai Aviata Fano Fa'alevao says "NO" to establishing a federal district court, even with limited jurisdiction, in American Samoa.
Tautai was responding to a Samoa News story, published on March 25, where Congressman Faleomavaega Eni reiterated his contention that the main two concerns that local leaders cite, when discussing the establishment of a federal court in the territory, are the issues affecting matai titles and communal lands.
Faleomavaega raised the issue again recently on his radio and television programs and wanted to hear the public's views about the establishment of a local federal court with limited jurisdiction.
Samoa News asked in its March 25 story: Do you want a federal court in the territory with limited jurisdiction?"
The following is the complete text of Tautai's open letter to the public:
"I say NO, we should not ask the US Congress by way of a bill to be introduced establishing such a federal court in American Samoa for the following reasons," stated Tautai in an open letter to the public submitted to Samoa News.
First and foremost, is that the question of setting up a federal court in American Samoa cuts across a much broader issue of self determination for our own local political development. There is no question that such a proposal, if or when it is implemented, will certainly undermine the United States' own general policy toward American Samoa, to wit, to encourage the process of self determination locally instead. It is toward this general policy that caused the United States to permit American Samoa to set up its own local legislature, to have its own judiciary branch as one of the three main branches of the republican government we are governed under and to permit us to elect our own Governor and Lt. Governor to head the Executive branch of government. Uncle Sam certainly wants us to be self determined of our own business and not from Washington D.C. This is the same argument the United States has given out to the United Nations as to its role and relationship to the Territory of American Samoa every time the UN raised the question of colonial ruling by the US against American Samoa. The late Governor Tauese Sunia has acknowledged the same policy and its realities as practiced in American Samoa, that we are not being treated by the United States as a Colony; that we are being given greater freedom and latitude in governing ourselves.
Secondly, what is wrong if American Samoa is the only US territory that is without a federal district court, whether or not an Article III court or simply a federal legislative court.
Inviting a federal court to be established in American Samoa is a way and means to introduce a door for other federal legislation to be made applicable to American Samoa.
At present our political status, as an 'unincorporated and unorganized' Territory of the United States, allows us to enjoy independence under so called "self determination" in making our own laws in regulating our own immigration, customs and tax matters, whereas other US Territories such as Guam and the Virgin Islands are being covered under federal laws in those areas.
To be frank, when I was Attorney General of the Territory and had opportunities meeting and discussing these matters with Attorney Generals of Guam, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, they all expressed envy of our political status that allowed us to regulate our own immigration, customs and tax matters, including our land tenure laws.
Thirdly, having a federal court established in American Samoa will operate and function as the first step toward introducing and indirectly applying ingredients of an organic act into the Territory, under doings of others without direct and express approval of the local people.
Our forefathers chose to have our people and islands be under the protection of the United States government. They entered into deeds with the US authorities documenting such understandings, including but not limited to later discussions and writings pertinent thereto which resulted in our political status being an 'unincorporated and unorganized' Territory of the United States.
There were a number of political status studies and evaluations on this issue and the people of American Samoa decided to remain as such instead of passing any organic act as did Guam and other US territories.
This same question will touch on the question of US citizenship. I maintain that his matter be left to the individual's prerogative. Let them make their own decision whether or not to continue with being US Nationals or to become a US citizen after going through the process required. US Nationals are entitled to most benefits US citizens are entitled to by law.
There are few benefits that US Nationals are not entitled to and I suggest that a better approach is to introduce proposed amendments to those federal laws to make such benefits equally applicable to US nationals. A point of interest, event though Guamanians and Virgin Island residents are US citizens by virtue of the fact that they are corporated and organized US Territories, they are not qualified to vote in the Presidential Elections. What kind of US citizens are they?
Lastly, is the proposal to set up a federal district court in American Samoa so that the FBI can come in to investigate and prosecute cases in American Samoa any time it wishes?
I do not think using the factual circumstances of the Daewoosa case and the ongoing case investigation of Wyatt Bowles disappearance are good and proper reasons to support such a bill to establish a federal district court in American Samoa.
A further point is that a handful of federal cases or FBI investigated cases will not justify a federal court in American Samoa. Moreover, there are few cases that the local police department may need assistance from the FBI and not in all cases.
I am sure the FBI is willing to lend a helping hand to the local police department and vice versa. If the concern is with regard to the jury trial issue in the Daewoosa case, an amendment to the federal law or judicial rule that lend jurisdiction over the Daewoosa case is an appropriate remedy, not setting up a federal court in American Samoa.
This issue of whether or not a federal district court should be established in American Samoa is an issue long debated in the past. The present Honorable Anthony Kennedy of the US Supreme Court chaired a judicial commission addressing this issue, in 1980, when he was member of the Ninth Circuit. Pubic hearings were held on the west coast, the state of Hawaii, among Samoan populations and in American Samoa. The majority of people who testified at these hearings supported the idea of setting up a federal district court in American Samoa then.
Only a handful of people testified against the proposal. The late Governor Uifaatali Peter Coleman, the late HC Salanoa Salofi, the late HC Fonoti Aufata, the late HTC Mulitauaopele Ivi, District Governor A.U. Fuimaono and myself were the few that testified against the proposal. There may be others.
After Justice Kennedy was appointed to the US Supreme Court, he specifically invited me and the late Governor Coleman to this office in the Supreme Court in Washington D.C. and checked with us again on our position on this issue. We advised him that our position on the issues remained unchanged. The Honorable Justice J. Clifford Wallace of the Ninth Circuit in San Diego replaced Justice Kennedy as Chairman of this same Judicial Commission and he discussed this same question with me some five years ago and I told him of the same "self determination" policy of the United States.
A related point of reference is when the 1984 Constitutional Convention delegation led by the late Governor Coleman went to Washington D.C. to transmit the proposed resolutions calling for amendments of certain provisions of the Revised Constitution of American Samoa.
After going through sessions and meetings with some of the Congressional Committees, Department of Interior legal staff and Department of Justice representatives, the late Senator Johnston told Governor Coleman, "Peter, tell your traditional leaders to go home and take your revised constitution with you. Do not let these people in Congress meddle with your constitution. They do not know anything about your land tenures, your Samoan traditions and customs".
It was unanimously agreed to follow the admonition from the Senator and we returned home satisfactorily.
It is this well thought advice and general policy of the United States toward American Samoa that is still ringing loud and clear to us today on this issue of a federal district court in American Samoa.
There is no question that the US Congress has authority to legislate anything regarding American Samoa. Its policy toward American Samoa though, to be self determined and self governed, is a permanent blue print already drawn for its administration of this Territory that we must appreciate and be thankful for.
No wonder this issue has long been dormant with the US Congress and especially the Department of Interior. Yes, setting up a federal district court here operates to undermine that well tuned policy.
The decision should be made by us locally. That is the same underlying argument in support of the concept of a jury of your own peers. Our own people can make judicial decisions for our own people. Sometimes, the local laws and federal laws have concurrent jurisdictions over certain matters, such as maritime cases. Let our own people make decisions that will affect us, that is, essentially self determination and not by those people in Washington D.C.