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Lawsuit demands U.S. citizenship for American Samoans

If a new federal lawsuit succeeds, Florida residents who were born in American Samoa might gain an easy path to U.S. citizenship. The plaintiffs want access to the rights of citizenship given to people born in the United States as established by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

Currently, people born on the U.S. territory comprised of seven South Pacific islands only attain the status of U.S. nationals. Despite paying federal income taxes, they lack significant citizen rights, such as voting, running for public office or serving on a jury. American Samoa is the only U.S. territory where birth does not result in automatic citizenship.

The court filings detail the hardships inflicted by their status as nationals instead of citizens. When traveling abroad, plaintiffs have been required to buy special travel documents that a U.S. citizen would not need. The plaintiffs also experience reduced employment opportunities because some jobs require U.S. citizenship.

Although American Samoans can apply for naturalized citizenship, the process imposes high costs and takes a long time to complete. The lead attorney for the plaintiffs insists that people born on U.S. soil should not have to face these barriers to become citizens.

A person who needs to petition U.S. immigration authorities for documentation could enlist the aid of an attorney familiar with immigration law. The lawyer could evaluate the client's goals, which may include sponsoring a family member or applying for a visa, and explain how to prepare the paperwork. With proper legal guidance, the client could gather the necessary documents to complete an application. This support might prevent delays caused by incomplete paperwork. An attorney could also accompany the client to an interview or hearing.

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