United States Territories
The United States has only three properties in the world classified as territories. They are Guam and American Samoa in the Pacific, and the U. S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. These ae governed by the United States but do not have the status of a state.
Some other possessions of the United States which do not have statehood status are not called territories. Some are called insular political communities, small islands or groups of islands. Puerto Rico is an island in the Caribbean. The Northern Marianas are islands in the Pacific Ocean. These have a status called commonwealth and are below states but above territories.
Several islands in the Pacific are called possessions. They do not have a steady or permanent population. These include Baker, Howland, Kingman Reef, Jarvis, Johnston, Midway, Palmyra and Wake.
In addition, the United States has several military bases around the world. Some of these are in Japan, Okinowa and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They are really considered a form of territory.
It is hard to determine just what American policy is regarding territories and possessions. The government seems to have made it up as it went along. Making a coherent plan for obtaining land has been rather a hard struggle.
There is no set policy in the United States Constitution telling how to gain land. It does delegate that power to Congress. It gives Congress 'Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States.'
Under international law, countries may gain land in one of several ways. They may seize land that is not already part of another country. They may conquer a land if permitted by the international community. They may gain land because of a treaty with another country.
Congress and the Supreme Court of the United States have come up with a plan that gives the President and Congress control of territories. The Department of the Interior has an Office of Insular (island) Affairs. Congress gives some of its administrative duties to this office. The President appoints judges and governing officials in the territories. Congress decides how the court system in the territory works. The Supreme Court may even review decisions of the territorial court.
Congress may pass laws for the territories but may not violate the rights of the people there. These rights 'can include the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, the right to freedom of speech, and the rights to equal protection and due process.'
Persons living in a territory cannot vote to have representation in Congress. They can elect their own legislature and make their own laws. However, Congress has the right to do away with any law. Each territory may elect a delegate to attend any meeting of Congress, but the delegate does not have the right to vote on any bill. He may vote in a committee to approve or deny any legislation, though.
Commonwealths are above territories in status and work with Congress to make laws acceptable to both the government and the commonwealth. Congress has a heavy hand over territories, however. Commonwealth status used to lead to becoming a state, but the situation has changed now. Most states were once territories. In the 1900's, Alaska, Hawaii, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona achieved statehood after being territories.
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