Currently the United States owns five inhabited island territories. The citizens of four of them -- Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands -- are all US citizens at birth. The citizens of American Samoa are born American Nationals who can gain citizenship upon moving to the states.
Many of these territories have belonged to the United States for over 100 years, and their citizens have contributed tremendously to American society. They and their state-born descendants have fought for the United States since World War I. They are scientists, astronauts, engineers, teachers, soldiers, politicians, and even a Supreme Court justice.
Thousands of them have moved to the states where they have become involved in their communities and even serve in Congress.
It is hard to believe, however, that for those who live on these Islands, they do not have the same equal rights as other U.S. citizens in the states. The two biggest inequalities are the lack of voting representation in Congress, and the inability to vote for president.
The U.S. territories do not have congressional representatives, and therefore do not have any electors in the Electoral College. This was also the case for Washington D.C., but the 23rd Amendment granted them electors in 1961.
The territories, which have some of the highest percentages of veterans, do not have the right to vote for their commander-in-chief. This is a disgrace.
The territories aren’t covered under the Affordable Care Act, and do not get equal funding for Medicare and Medicaid, despite paying their fair share of social security taxes.
The mistreatment of the U.S. territories have existed for well over 100 years, and have been ignored by both of the major political parties.
Perhaps the most disturbing legal precedents still in effect today are the Insular Cases. One of these cases was Downes v. Bidwll. Here is an excerpt of the ruling:
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...
This case, which is still legally valid, dealt with whether the Constitution applied to the territories that the United States owned. The ruling was that it did not.
Congress can pass laws over the territories that wouldn’t necessarily be permitted under the Constitution. In addition, according to the way the laws are now, Congress could decide to revoke the U.S. citizenships of those living in the territories, should they want to.
Citizens of the territories have a statuary-citizenship rather than a constitutional-citizenship, which is granted to those born in the states.
It is well above my current level of education to fully understand the complexities regarding how the Constitution, Supreme Court rulings, and federal laws apply to the territories. However, I do not believe it is a complex notion to suggest that all U.S. citizens should have the right to vote for their president, regardless of whether they live in a state or a territory.
Regardless of who is elected president this November, it should be his or her priority to bring equal rights to the territories. All Americans, especially those living in the states, should speak up, and convince their representatives in Congress to fight for their fellow Americans in the territories.