Two Types of Territories
The harm will now begin.
This has definitely not been the experience of people living in Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Marianas, and the US Virgin Islands, whose homes went from being little pieces of the Spanish Empire to little pieces of the American Empire overnight in 1898. These islands were never settled en masse by mainlanders – by which we mean English-speaking whites . . . more on that later – and they’ve been stuck in political limbo ever since. A 1917 law did grant residents of these places citizenship for purposes of work, military service, and taxation, but nobody has ever gotten around to the “statehood” part of the “state-in-waiting” process.
“We’ll get around to it eventually. First, we need to repeal Obamacare a few more times and investigate Benghazi for a bit.” Source: Subjective Facts
All of this came to a head in 1901, when the Supreme Court started issuing rulings in about a half-dozen suits, which are collectively known as the “Insular Cases.” These cases dealt with legal challenges from residents of the territories, each seeking full legal rights under the US Constitution. In a blistering series of outright insane leaps of legal logic, the same court that had just a few years earlier delivered the Plessy v. Ferguson decision ruled that the Constitution doesn’t necessarily apply to, y’know, everybody. From the majority opinion in Downes v. Bidwell, 1901:
Patriotic and intelligent men may differ widely as to the desireableness of this or that acquisition, but this is solely a political question . . . If those possessions are inhabited by alien races, differing from us in religion, customs, laws, methods of taxation, and modes of thought, the administration of government and justice, according to Anglo-Saxon principles, may for a time be impossible; and the question at once arises whether large concessions ought not to be made for a time, that ultimately our own theories may be carried out, and the blessings of a free government under the Constitution extended to them.
So, basically, the US Constitution is substantially the product of Anglo-Saxon culture, “Porto Ricans” aren’t Anglo-Saxon, therefore they probably can’t be trusted with all the rights people get in white-dominated territories such as Arizona and New Mexico (which wouldn’t become states for another 11 years).
Nope. Still Not Past That
Believe it or not, the Insular Cases are still being cited by the government to deny basic rights to people in US territories. As of this writing, the Supreme Court is considering the case of Tuaua v. United States, in which plaintiffs from American Samoa are suing for citizenship on the very good grounds that they are the only people in the world who can be born in the United States without the the 14th Amendment’s automatic citizenship and Equal Protection clauses applying to them.
The Obama administration has assigned counsel to the case and actually had the nerve to cite the Insular Cases as justification for denying American Samoans basic rights that are enjoyed even by residents of states that once fought a war to secede from the Union.
Very Uneven Citizenship
So – the US territories are all technically part of America, and we know that most of the people in them are US citizens, except for Samoans, apparently, and the case for either full statehood or at least voting rights seems pretty solid, given that the only real argument that’s ever been offered against the proposition is that they’re not white. But we might be forgiven for wondering whether these places would genuinely make good additions to the United States. Are they, in other words, “pro-America”?
It’s usually a bad idea to argue that this or that bit of America is more patriotic than another, if only because that kind of thing almost got Sarah Palin elected to high office. But the numbers for US territories are telling. Consider military service: During the Iraq War, the state of Vermont led the nation in per capita casualties, losing 2.5 people out of every 100,000.
That places Vermont fourth on the overall list, behind the US Virgin Islands (2.6), Northern Marianas Islands (3.7), and American Samoa, which suffered a frankly astonishing 8.6 casualties out of 100,000 people. Guam also ranked abnormally high, at sixth, with 1.78 out of 100,000. At the nadir of Army recruitment, around 2006, the recruiting station in American Samoa was practically the only one out of nearly 900 Army recruiting posts to overfill its quotas for new recruits. This, despite the fact that only around 10 percent of American Samoans have managed to get US citizenship.
So, in summary: The United States has spent the last 117 years (and counting) ruling over five territories, with a total population rivaling San Francisco. The people in these places pay taxes and serve in the military, where they die in combat at up to four times the rate of any state, and are expected to travel over 2,000 miles to the nearest VA hospital in Hawaii. Until 2009, some of them were expected to work like mules for $3 an hour for American corporations, all without voting for anything much beyond the local school board.
In exchange for this sacrifice, American Samoans are rewarded with a special passport, which goes out of its way to insult them on the last page, where it notes in bold text that the holder is not a citizen, to which is added the injury of being fired when their second-class citizenship is discovered by an employer. And all because federal judges who’ve been dead since World War I were concerned about “alien races” mucking up Anglo-Saxon law.