The Territories: They Are Us.


It became clear following the massive hurricane destruction last fall that most Americans don't know much about the 16 U.S. territories. Sixteen? Yes, but you've probably heard of only the five that have permanent residents: American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

All but American Samoa are classified as "organized territories," meaning Congress passed an Organic Act allowing them to establish a government and elect a governor and a legislature. Their residents are American citizens. Because Congress has not passed an Organic Act for American Samoa, it is technically considered "unorganized" and residents are American nationals, not citizens. There's not much difference between the two designations, however.

All use the U.S. dollar, none pay federal taxes and all have the protection of the U.S. court system. But neither citizens nor nationals from the territories can vote in presidential elections, based on the U.S. Constitution giving that responsibility to the "states." And, like the District of Columbia, each territory elects a member to the U.S. House of Representatives who may participate in most aspects of Congress, except floor votes.

By the Numbers


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