Legal Scholars Say U.S. Citizenship Available Only with U.S. Sovereignty

When it comes to U.S. citizenship, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is clear: “All persons born or naturalized in the US, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.”

In a nutshell, this provision makes it clear that U.S. citizenship can be obtained either by birth or by going through the immigration naturalization process.

But there’s also a hook here.  It’s not enough to be simply born in the U.S. or have gone through the  U.S. naturalization process.  To be a U.S. citizen, a person must also be “subject to the jurisdiction” of the U.S.

This phrase could take on increased importance as the recently introduced Puerto Rico Status Act is considered by Congress.

On May 31, a group of 16 law and history scholars affiliated with universities across the country filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to agree to consider on appeal Fitisemanu v. U.S., a case regarding the availability of Constitutional  U.S. citizenship for people living in the U.S. territories.

The scholars, who are experts in the area of U.S. citizenship, made points in their submission to the Supreme Court that would apply to U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico if Puerto Rico were to end its relationship with the U.S. and instead become a sovereign nation.

In their legal brief, the scholars noted that when the Philippines ended its status as a U.S. territory, its people “severed their allegiance to the United States and became citizens of the Philippines instead.”

“The common law rule commanding the result took firm root in U.S. law at the nation’s founding,” the scholars explained.  “Under it, a change in sovereignty occasions a corresponding change in inhabitants’ allegiance and citizenship.”

“By the time of the American Revolution, the common law already recognized the rule that the transfer of territory to a new sovereign brought about a corresponding change in the allegiance of the inhabitants. This result flowed straightforwardly from the understanding that the people’s allegiance to the sovereign and the sovereign’s protection of the people were reciprocal duties.  Change the protector, and the allegiance followed.”

“The principle that inhabitants’ allegiance attaches to their territory’s new sovereign is not just as ancient as the Republic, it is constitutive of it,” the scholars concluded.

Under both the independence and sovereign free association status options in the draft bill, Puerto Rico is defined as “a sovereign nation” and Puerto Ricans who have U.S. citizenship “have a right to retain” that citizenship “for life by entitlement or election as provided by Federal law.”

The legal analysis provided by the sixteen scholars in their Fitisemanu v. U.S. amicus brief appears to provide no such reassurance to current U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico.  To the contrary.  Under Federal law, retaining U.S. citizenship “for life” requires U.S. sovereignty, which is possible only under statehood if Puerto Rico moves beyond its current status as a U.S. territory.

The professors who signed the Supreme Court submission are affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania, Texas A&M, Emory, Bringham Young, University of Southern California, Rutgers, Boston University, University of Mississippi, University of Iowa, St. Louis University, University of San Diego, University of New Hampshire, and the University of Connecticut.

Read the legal brief of citizenship scholars as Amici Curiae in Fitisemanu v. the United States

 

 

 

 

 

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The Puerto Rico Status Act: The Citizenship Question - Puerto Rico Report

[…] Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), pressed on the question of citizenship in a Free Associated State of Puerto Rico, briskly answered, “It’s in the bill.” On the question of whether the Constitution would allow a new “commonwealth” relationship in Natural Resources Committee hearings, she said, “We hold the pen.” It is clear that she believes that Congress can grant Puerto Ricans a citizenship upgrade in a sovereign nation in free association with the U.S.  History, however, is more ambiguous. […]

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