The following is wholly my opinion and may contain factual or historical inaccuracies, but I did try to weed out what I could. My blog, my rules.
I am reminded of the saying, "Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it."
Citizenship is a weighty issue. With it comes responsibilities and benefits, many of which aren't clearly taught in civics classes these days. First and foremost though, with citizenship the flag and the U.S. Constitution will follow. In American Samoa we have had the US flag flying over our islands for the past 100+ years since our chiefs signed the Deeds of Cession. For the past century, American Samoa has been a US Naval Station, later directly administered by the U.S. Department of Interior, and for the last few decades largely self-governed. In that time we have not yet promulgated an Organic Act to normalize our relations with the United States. Our official status is as "an unincorporated territory of the United States". To put it lightly the sacred rooster has finally come home to roost after a long military and civilian tour in the United States and we have to seriously debate the future of our territory in regards to the United States. Past votes on this issue have always resulted in a "continuance of the status quo", but even if this court case fails, it is evidence that all are not happy with the status quo and change may come a'calling whether or not it is invited.
The U.S. Constitution and the American Samoa cultural quirks that are embedded in our territorial constitution and in our public policies are not wholly compatible. Our way of life rests within those zones of incompatibility that neither the U.S. nor the American Samoan public have been willing to peer at too closely. The citizenship case before the Federal courts now has put a magnifying glass over our home's little oddities and we may be forced to confront those issues head on or have our rights for self determination determined for us. More specifically at stake are our control of our borders, immigration, land ownership, and the titled system of nobility that is our "matai system". If we lose control of our progress toward modernization - we could very well end up like the Hawaiians - citizens without majority ownership of the lands that have defined who we are for the past 3,000 years.
Some background on the current status quo. American Samoa is an unincorporated territory and possession of the United States and persons born here, Swains Island, and/or the other US Minor Outlying island possessions are granted U.S. National status, not full citizenship. This status is denoted in the U.S. Passport carried by U.S. Nationals via an endorsement in the back that states the limitation of nationality. U.S. Nationals have most of the rights and privileges of a U.S. Citizen but cannot vote in a Federal or state election, and must satisfy the same residency requirements as a resident alien in the United States to gain full citizenship.
Is there middle ground where we can meet the Federal Government's expectations of progress while retaining the time and independence needed to come to a consensus amongst ourselves? Perhaps - I cannot speak for the Federal Government, but if we compromise to include "Citizenship Civics curriculum" in all of our schools and adult education systems, on television, radio and on billboards for the next 10 years, and define a roadmap to an Organic Act with real deadlines and penalties, then perhaps the Federal Government can relax the requirements for U.S. Nationals to convert to full citizenship by granting U.S. Nationals their time of residency in the territory to count toward their citizenship, so that upon reaching their majority - a U.S. National raised in American Samoa or any other U.S. possession may apply for and receive citizenship so long as the other factors that may impede citizenship are satisfied such as being in possession of good character (no criminal record).
Otherwise, I am wary of the consequences of "automatic" citizenship upon birth in the territory.
Unintended consequences could mean the expansion of Federal management of the territory's borders - replacing local customs and immigration with Federal customs and immigrations enforcement. Sounds good right? It sure sounds good until you realize that...
1) Most of our foreign residents don't have green cards, and family from Western Samoa will no longer be able to visit us without a significant change in the treatment of Samoan citizens by our Federal Department of State.
2) The majority of the land in American Samoa is communal, our land laws restrict the sale of non-freehold land to Samoans (the law was changed to make it even stricter defining eligibility as 50+% American Samoan, raised in a Samoan household). Expansion of the jurisdiction of the full US Constitution to American Samoa would mean that protection may disappear.
3) Communal land ownership will have to be redefined under laws that meet the constitutional test.
4) Our "matai system" is a system of nobility and is therefore not recognized under the US Constitution. We will have to seek to normalize or protect both the lands and the matai system under an arrangement similar to the Native Americans.
5) Eligibility for the military draft will become automatic for all males born in the territory. At the moment our eligibility is contingent upon us volunteering to become eligible. It is not automatic but will be if this goes through.
6) We have policies that require non-residents and non-American Samoans to purchase expensive round-trip tickets when coming to American Samoa, discouraging indigent migration. Hawaii has this problem with homeless from around the U.S. mainland migrating to Hawaii because of the gentler climate. These policies will likely be voided. You didn't think all those homeless in Hawaii were born there did you?
Like anything we do - the unintended consequences of whatever we choose will be there. If we try and continue the status quo - we may never advance as a society, and we may never get a chance to share with the world what 3,000 years of social evolution may have taught us about the importance of family and community in surviving whatever nature may throw at us. If we let others define the framework for us we may lose our identity and our future generations may be left scrambling to rediscover what we put in motion to lose. It's happening already - as new generations of Samoans grow up with limited knowledge of the Faasamoa and the language. I should know, because while I understand my culture and love it - I don't speak Samoan well enough, even though I understand it.
Are we in crisis? Maybe not. Maybe we are. But decision by crisis shouldn't be how we treat our future. Our ancestors survived and fought to stay on our islands by planning ahead. It is in our blood to be successful, intelligent, and capable - or as I always tell it - we are Samoan and we are here because we are the descendents of the winners, of the winners, of the winners. And because of that heritage we are not weak minded or weak willed by nature.
Think about it.
Edit: 11/14/2012, 8:45 PM - Finally found a reference to the issue of citizenship eligibility for U.S. Nationals. Here's the excerpts. My next question is if an American Samoan, U.S. National, can opt for and obtain U.S. Citizenship without moving to one one of the 50 U.S. States.
If you are at least 18 years old and:
• Are a U.S. national (a non-citizen who owes permanent allegiance to the United States); and
• Have become a resident of any State; and
• Are otherwise qualified for naturalization.
The same requirements as any other applicant for naturalization, depending on your qualifications.
NOTE: Any time you resided in American Samoa or Swains Island counts the same as the time you resided within a State of the United States.