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For reference, the Palmyra Atoll island is an unorganized incorporated territory by the United States. It is subject to the U.S. Constitution and is permanently under American sovereignty.

If a baby was born on the Palmyra Atoll, would the baby have U.S. citizenship?

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  • FWIW, people born in American Samoa are not U.S. citizens at birth pursuant to Section 1 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Feb 6 at 22:59

2 Answers 2

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Palmyra Atoll is an incorporated territory of the U.S. (it's currently the only incorporated territory), and therefore (unlike other U.S. territories) all of the Constitution applies to it, and people born there are automatically U.S. citizens under the 14th amendment.

Given that Palmyra Atoll has no permanent population and access is limited, this issue is unlikely to come up.


I want to elaborate further about what I believe is the legal basis of this. The Hawaii Organic Act of 1900, section 5, provided that the Constitution (as well as certain laws) of the US has the same effect in the Territory of Hawaii as elsewhere in the US. Palmyra Atoll was part of this territory because it was annexed by the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1862.

Section 5 of the Hawaii Organic Act was never explicitly repealed. In particular, the Hawaii Admission Act of 1959 only repealed very few sections of the Hawaii Organic Act. Although the Hawaii Admission Act provided for the admission of Hawaii as a state, it excluded Palmyra Atoll from the territory of the state, so I believe that the parts of the Hawaii Organic Act that weren't repealed, including the provisions that apply the Constitution and laws of the US the same as elsewhere in the US, still apply to Palmyra Atoll, and this would include citizenship by birth.

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  • Your answer implies that unincorporated territories do not get 14th amendment protections extended to it. Is that actually true? I thought incorporation was merely a local designation. Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 19:49
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    @MichaelKingsmill: It's true. Territories like Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam, and Northern Mariana Islands have birthright citizenship only through acts of Congress. Before the relevant law was passed by Congress, people born in Puerto Rico, for example, only were non-citizen U.S. nationals. Even today, people born in American Samoa (a significant territory with 55,000+ people) and Swains Island do not get U.S. citizenship at birth, only getting non-citizen U.S. nationality, because no act of Congress extended it to them.
    – user102008
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 21:51
  • Your answer is my understanding too. Although given how U.S. citizenship is frequently sought after by many around the world, I do wonder why this hasn't been a major issue. What if a cruise ship drop off a bunch of mothers ready to give birth, with doctors and nurses? That'll help with access and cost.
    – Ray Shan
    Commented Jul 17, 2014 at 2:58
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    @RayShan the last place mothers who are about to give birth want to be is on a cruise ship.
    – user1530
    Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 17:34
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A baby was in fact born at Palmyra Island shortly after World War II, when his father was doing ionosperic work there for the Central Radio Propagation Laboratory of the National Bureau of Standards. At that time Palmyra Island was legally an ordinary part of the U.S. Territory of Hawaii. That baby, Leo Watts Honea, Jr. is now an engineer living in a mainland U.S. state.

Other Territory of Hawaii citizens, in the Hawaiian Islands, automatically became State of Hawaii citizens in 1959 when those islands became the State of Hawaii. Congress deliberately excluded Palmyra Island from the new State, by statute, so it is technically the the only remaining part of the old U.S. Territory of Hawaii. That's why Palmyra Island is the only remaining "incorporated" U.S. Territory (under the doctrine of the Supreme Court's "Insular Cases" decided after the Spanish-American War), because the Territory of Hawaii had been officially incorporated.

Mr. Honea may or may not be, very technically, a citizen of the U.S. Territory of Palmyra Island since 1959. This case is not clear.

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  • A person claiming to be Jesse Johnson of the Palmyra Atoll Digital archive (palmyraarchive.org) has asked that someone request that Leo Honea contacts him (via the site). That post was deleted and the account did not have the reputation to comment. I cannot confirm (nor deny) the authenticity of the original post nor that of the site.
    – Brythan
    Commented Oct 22, 2017 at 20:06
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    If the father and/or mother of the baby born at Palmyra Island were U.S. citizens that would have been an alternate means by which the child would be a U.S. citizen at birth in that case, and a U.S. citizen is also under the U.S. Constitution a citizen of the U.S. state in which he or she resides.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 20:08

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