How We Decided to Code for U.S. Nationals Who Are Not U.S. Citizens

This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.

How We Decided to Code for U.S. Nationals Who Are Not U.S. Citizens

Selena Mungur

While researching Tusitala Toese after he was indicted for multiple levels of assault during a political rally where he associated himself with Proud Boys, we found that Toese is from the American Somoa. Inhabitants of American Samoa are considered U.S. nationals, but not U.S. citizens. Previously, the Prosecution Project’s values for the citizenship status variable within the dataset included: “U.S. citizen,” “U.S. permanent resident,” “residing in U.S. on visa,” “residing in U.S. as refugee,” “foreign national,” or “unknown.” The Toese case brought forward a new question of citizenship which we had not previously considered, as inhabitants of American Samoa do not fully fit into any of these categories.

As we started to discuss options for how to code citizenship for inhabitants of American Samoa, we looked at three primary values to group them under: “US citizen,” “US permanent resident,” or “foreign national.” “US citizen” was a plausible option because American Samoa is U.S. territory, however, according to the Immigration and Nationalities Act, American Samoans are US nationals, not US citizens. Next, “US permanent resident” is also not accurate as this value refers to those who are green card holders, but who do not have permanent allegiance to the United States. Finally, “foreign national” also does not accurately depict this citizenship status because American Samoans do still have permanent allegiance to the United States, not legal allegiance to another nation.

As we have now established that American Samoans do not fall into any of our preexisting citizenship values, we must either choose to create a new value for “US national” or add it to another pre-existing value. After researching the demographics of American Samoa, we found that because the population is so low, and that fact that we have not previously run into this question, we decided not to create a new value for “US national.” The new challenge is then deciding which current value US national should be added to. At this point, “foreign national” is thrown out of the running because there has been a strong link between American Samoans and the United States. I argued that “U.S. national, but not U.S. citizen” should be added to the value of “U.S. citizen” instead of “U.S. permanent resident” for a variety of reasons. Under The Immigration and Nationality Act, inhabitants of American Samoa and Swains Island are considered nationals of the United States, but not U.S. citizens. This is different from inhabitants from other U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico and Guam, whose inhabitants are granted U.S. citizenship.

According to a bill that was introduced to U.S. Congress in 2018 and again in 2019, U.S. nationals owe their permanent allegiance to the United States, which would prove them different from U.S. permanent residents, and much closer to U.S. citizens. Secondly, the naturalization process for U.S. citizenship for a U.S. national is expedited (see Section 1, subsection A, parts 5-6). Finally, in the American Samoan judicial system, “the highest legal authority is the High Court, which is headed by a chief justice and associate justices, all appointed by the U.S. secretary of the interior.“ This shows that the highest level of the American Samoan judicial system is still under U.S. control. Given all these combined factors, we agreed that “U.S. national, but not U.S. citizen” could not be combined with “U.S. permanent resident,” and should instead combine it with “US citizen.” However, our final decision was to add this distinction as a footnote to our codebook because this is a small nuance which could make a difference in only a small number of cases.

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