Non-Citizen Nationals: Neither Aliens Nor Citizens
Posted: 7 Dec 2014
Date Written: December 5, 2014
The modern conception of the law of birthright citizenship operates along the citizen/noncitizen binary. Those born in the United States generally acquire automatic U.S. citizenship at birth. Those who do not are regarded as non-citizens. Unbeknownst to many, there is another form of birthright membership category: the non-citizen national. Judicially constructed in the 1900s and codified by Congress in 1940, non-citizen national was the status given to people who were born in U.S. territories acquired at the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898. Today, it is the status of people who are born in American Samoa, a current U.S. territory.
This Article explores the legal construction of non-citizen national status and its implications for our understanding of citizenship. On a narrow level, the Article recovers a forgotten part of U.S. racial history, revealing an interstitial form of birthright citizenship that emerged out of imperialism and racial restrictions to citizenship. On a broader scale, this Article calls into question the plenary authority of Congress over the territories and power to determine their people’s membership status. Specifically, this Article contends that such plenary power over the citizenship status of those born in a U.S. possession conflicts with the common law principle of jus soli and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Citizenship Clause. Accordingly, this Article offers a limiting principle to congressional power over birthright citizenship.
Keywords: Citizenship; immigration; race
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