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Associated Press Newswires

Appeals Court Upholds U.S. Citizenship For N. Marianas Islanders

July 2, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Associated Press Newswires. All rights reserved.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that islanders born there after the establishment of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in 1976 are U.S. citizens, just as are the islanders born there before the chain's covenant with the United States.

The U.S. Department of State had argued that the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution conferring citizenship only applies to persons born in the United States and that the covenant between the United States and the CMNI only conferred citizenship to persons born there before the commonwealth was established.

The appeals court, which overturned a ruling by District of the Northern Mariana Islands Chief Judge Alex Munson, said the government's argument was flimsy.

"The government's effort to distinguish 'one of the several states' from a state within the United States depends on gossamer reasoning that common sense must blow away," the appeals court said.

The case was brought in 2002 on behalf of Jacinto A. Sabangan Jr., born Nov. 30, 1983, and Esther Hae Jin Sohn, born Dec. 12, 1982, when the State Department rejected their claims of U.S. citizenship and applications for U.S. passports.

In arguing against the appeal, the government acknowledged that Congress had power to confer citizenship on persons born in U.S. territories as it did in the past for Hawaii, Alaska, Guam and Puerto Rico.

"Obviously it is not the Constitution alone but the act of Congress applying Section 1 of the Fourteen Amendment that make Sabangan and Sohn citizens of the United States," the court said.

The appeals court noted that the Immigration and Nationality Act provides that persons "born in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof" are U.S. citizens.

The 375-mile-long chain of 14 volcanic islands north of Guam after World War II became part of the United Nation's Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands administered by the United States and in 1978 negotiated the covenant to become a self-governing U.S. commonwealth.

The CMNI has a population of about 72,000, including tens of thousands of Asian immigrants brought in to work in the garment industry.

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