Americans, Almost and Forgotten

54 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2019 Last revised: 11 Oct 2019

See all articles by Tom C. W. Lin

Tom C. W. Lin

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Date Written: September 15, 2019


There are millions of Americans who are systematically forgotten and mistreated by our government. They have been described by the Supreme Court as “alien races” and “utterly unfit for American citizenship,” but they continue to fight and die defending our Constitution. They survive catastrophic storms, but do not receive the assistance that is freely given to other Americans. They are subject to federal laws and regulations, but have no meaningful voice or vote in Washington. They are the millions of Americans in Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands — the unincorporated territories of the United States.

This Article is about these forgotten Americans, their longstanding political plight, and the pragmatic legal policies that could improve their lives and make them fully and equally American. It begins by providing a brief overview of each territory. Next, it investigates the plight of the territories, focusing on how interconnected factors relating to political powerlessness, economic dependence, military presence, and geographic isolation have created heavy burdens for people in the territories. Moving from problems to solutions, this Article examines past efforts to aid the territories. In particular, it analyzes past pursuits of litigation, statehood, and independence. It explains why these prior paths did not lead to progress, and discloses critical obstacles that continue to obstruct these routes. Finally, this Article proposes three workable ways for the federal government to assist the territories in the near term. Specifically, it argues that the territories and their supporters should focus on working with the federal government to obtain: (1) an extended temporary waiver of the costly maritime law known as the Jones Act, (2) most-favored state status in federal veterans and disaster relief appropriations, and (3) special economic empowerment zone designations. Ultimately, this Article aspires to offer a new, workable roadmap for policymakers to think and act with greater urgency about the forgotten Americans of our territories.

Keywords: American territories, Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands (UVI), Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), American Samoa, Jones Act, Insular Cases, Organic Act of Guam, voting rights, statehood, non-citizen nationals, Territorial Clause, PROMESA

Suggested Citation

Lin, Tom C. W., Americans, Almost and Forgotten (September 15, 2019). 107 California Law Review 1249 (2019), Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2019-27, Available at SSRN:

Tom C. W. Lin (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

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