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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, August 7, 2022
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The Long-Term Effects of Shortsightedness

Dear Source:

Yes, the Danes and other countries participated in the indignity of slavery here in the Virgin Islands for over 200 years and it has been 160 years since slaves were set free in the Virgin Islands. To a great extent, the Danes still "owned" the population as citizens of Denmark up to 1917. For ten years, Virgin Islanders were without real citizenship until, in 1927, the United States declared that all inhabitants of the Virgin Islands were citizens of the US including some who had moved but did not declare citizenship to any other country.
The framers of the Fifth Constitution want to include language, which mirrors the existing, and still legal language, which is included in the 1927 citizenship decree. I believe that original language should be made part of the new Constitution as an historic matter so that all people will understand the historic significance of the citizenship clause. To word the new Constitution differently would be confrontational to the 1927 citizenship law. As it is now, the Constitutional delegates are considering a 5-year citizenship requirement. That is, a person moving to the Virgin Islands from any country, including the United States, will have a waiting period of 5 years to qualify as Virgin Islands citizens. This is in direct opposition to the law which claims all persons born in the United States are automatically U.S. citizens. The Virgin Islands then, would be the only place on U.S. soil to have such a waiting period. This, coupled with the controversial language on just who is a Native Virgin Islander, could not possibly pass Congressional or even Virgin Islands muster. For this reason, the entire Constitution, which does have some progressive language, would be doomed to failure.
The many Constitutional scholars who are now working on this document have either donated their time or are paid to "dress up" the language, must know that denial of citizenship, even for a short period of time and anywhere in the United States, is blatantly unconstitutional. To have such language would be tantamount to saying that a resident of New York cannot vote for 5 years if that person moved to say, Iowa. The United States is just that–united. The Virgin Islands is, like it or not, part of the United States and the people here have the same rights, save the right to vote for stateside offices and the President, as any other US citizen.
Now, if Virgin Islanders want to declare independence from the United States, then such a citizenship law would then be legal. I am pretty certain most Virgin Islanders do not want independence and prefer the status quo. If that is true, then denying citizenship to anyone is contrary to the policy of a free and open society and cannot be included in the new Constitution.
Here's a good scenario: Barack Obama and his family decide to move to the Virgin Islands after his presidency is complete. He is denied the right to vote or have any legal rights of citizenship for the first five years. Do you really think he would move here? Would anyone? Could it be that the proposed citizenship language has those kinds of intentions? The long-term effects of short-sightedness can be devastating to a society. To allow such citizenship language would bring the laws of the Virgin Islands back 160 years. Justification for the sins of the past cannot be placed within a modern Constitution regardless of how noble the intent.

Paul Devine
St. John

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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Dear Source:

Yes, the Danes and other countries participated in the indignity of slavery here in the Virgin Islands for over 200 years and it has been 160 years since slaves were set free in the Virgin Islands. To a great extent, the Danes still "owned" the population as citizens of Denmark up to 1917. For ten years, Virgin Islanders were without real citizenship until, in 1927, the United States declared that all inhabitants of the Virgin Islands were citizens of the US including some who had moved but did not declare citizenship to any other country.
The framers of the Fifth Constitution want to include language, which mirrors the existing, and still legal language, which is included in the 1927 citizenship decree. I believe that original language should be made part of the new Constitution as an historic matter so that all people will understand the historic significance of the citizenship clause. To word the new Constitution differently would be confrontational to the 1927 citizenship law. As it is now, the Constitutional delegates are considering a 5-year citizenship requirement. That is, a person moving to the Virgin Islands from any country, including the United States, will have a waiting period of 5 years to qualify as Virgin Islands citizens. This is in direct opposition to the law which claims all persons born in the United States are automatically U.S. citizens. The Virgin Islands then, would be the only place on U.S. soil to have such a waiting period. This, coupled with the controversial language on just who is a Native Virgin Islander, could not possibly pass Congressional or even Virgin Islands muster. For this reason, the entire Constitution, which does have some progressive language, would be doomed to failure.
The many Constitutional scholars who are now working on this document have either donated their time or are paid to "dress up" the language, must know that denial of citizenship, even for a short period of time and anywhere in the United States, is blatantly unconstitutional. To have such language would be tantamount to saying that a resident of New York cannot vote for 5 years if that person moved to say, Iowa. The United States is just that--united. The Virgin Islands is, like it or not, part of the United States and the people here have the same rights, save the right to vote for stateside offices and the President, as any other US citizen.
Now, if Virgin Islanders want to declare independence from the United States, then such a citizenship law would then be legal. I am pretty certain most Virgin Islanders do not want independence and prefer the status quo. If that is true, then denying citizenship to anyone is contrary to the policy of a free and open society and cannot be included in the new Constitution.
Here's a good scenario: Barack Obama and his family decide to move to the Virgin Islands after his presidency is complete. He is denied the right to vote or have any legal rights of citizenship for the first five years. Do you really think he would move here? Would anyone? Could it be that the proposed citizenship language has those kinds of intentions? The long-term effects of short-sightedness can be devastating to a society. To allow such citizenship language would bring the laws of the Virgin Islands back 160 years. Justification for the sins of the past cannot be placed within a modern Constitution regardless of how noble the intent.

Paul Devine
St. John

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.