Citizenship in U.S. Territories: Constitutional Right or Congressional Privilege?
Centro Journal, Volume XXIX, Number I, Spring 2017
28 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2017
Date Written: March 2, 2017
Absent the 1917 Jones Act, would people born in Puerto Rico today be U.S. citizens? The Supreme Court has yet to provide a definitive answer to this question. But it may be presented the opportunity to do so as the result of a legal challenge to federal laws that deny recognition of citizenship to individuals born in the U.S. territory of American Samoa. The status of people born in American Samoa today has parallels to the status of Puerto Ricans prior to the 1917 Jones Act: neither citizens nor aliens. This article argues that the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees birthright citizenship throughout the territorial sovereignty of the United States: States, Territories, and the District of Columbia alike. As a result, the denial of birthright citizenship in American Samoa today is as unconstitutional as it was in Puerto Rico prior to the Jones Act. Resolving the question of citizenship in U.S. territories may also provide the Supreme Court an opportunity to finally reconsider the Insular Cases and their controversial doctrine of “separate and unequal” status for residents of “unincorporated” U.S. territories.
Keywords: Citizenship, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Insular Cases, Tuaua v. United States, Jones Act, Jus Soli, Citizenship Clause, Birthright Citizenship
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