Federal case in nation's capitol has impacts on Guam - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Federal case in nation's capitol has impacts on Guam

by Ken Quintanilla

Guam - Could Congress turn birthright citizenship on and off for Guam whenever it chooses? That's the question raised with a recent District Court ruling that there is no Constitutional right to citizenship in U.S. territories.

"The District Court's conclusion that congress can turn the right to birthright citizenship on and off in U.S. territories is a disserving one that runs counter to the clear text in history of the constitution itself," said former Guam resident and civil rights attorney Neil Weare is referring to a federal judge's decision concluding that "citizenship is not guaranteed to people born in unincorporated territories."

The decision was made in Washington, DC District Court in the federal case of Tuaua V. United States where five individuals born in American Samoa were fighting their claim that the constitution guarantees people born in U.S. territories the right to U.S. citizenship by birth. Weare is the lead counsel on the case.

Weare says federal law currently labels these individuals with the subordinate status of non-citizen nationals - a status similar to people born in Guam prior to the Organic Act. "As a result, they're treated different from other Americans, if they move to other states they can't vote, they can't obtain certain jobs and face other restrictions that wouldn't have if they were recognized as citizens like everyone else," he explained.

So what does this mean here at home? "And what it means for Guam is under the judge of the logic congress tomorrow can change federal statute and hence forward people on Guam could not be recognized as citizens and that's the kind of power the 14th Amendment was meant to take away from Congress," Weare said.

Former senator Hope Cristobal meanwhile says she always understood that citizenship was statutorily granted by Congress, saying, "Remember, the whole Government of Guam was created by Congress and we knew it was a penned in citizenship and just as quickly they can un-pen it or erase it."

She says the issue really should be more about equity rather than equality adding it would take a major act of Congress for this to happen. "And I would imagine there would be an uproar and when that time comes we'll be ready to stand up to that kind of an action, an adverse action by Congress," she said.

Weare meanwhile says this is only the beginning of the legal process, adding in these types of complicated constitutional cases the decision is ultimately decided on appeal- something he'll be taking up. "But there will be more opportunity on appeals to present these clear Constitutional arguments to the Circuit Court and we look forward to having these arguments at this point," he said.

Weare adds the judge in the ruling had the opportunity to turn the pages on the insular cases but instead relied on them for his decision. Vice Speaker B.J. Cruz meanwhile says he's disappointed in the District Court, saying this provides Weare the opportunity to take it up on appeal as he believes the U.S. Supreme Court needs to address this and correct the "racist decisions" that were issued in the 1920s with the insular cases. He adds the insular cases are "insulting" and "needs to just be put to bed completely once and for all." 

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