After moving tens of thousands of families and individuals to and from Guam, we get a lot of questions about the island, including:
“Is Guam a part of the United States?”
The answer? Yes, Guam is an organized, unincorporated territory of the United States.
But what exactly does that mean? Keep reading and we’ll explain everything you need to know about Guam, its political status, and how that impacts the citizens of Guam.
How Did Guam Become a Part of the United States?
The results of the Spanish-American War put Guam under the control of the United States. During the war, the U.S. invaded the island. At the war’s conclusion, Guam was officially ceded to the U.S. under the Treaty of Paris and placed under the governance of the U.S. Navy.
Previous to the Spanish-American War, Spain had controlled the island for more than 350 years, after formally claiming the island in 1565.
However, the human history of Guam truly begins ~4,000 years ago. At that time, voyagers from Southeast Asia arrived on the island and began building their own culture. These people came to be known as the Chamorro. Although a great deal of their culture was suppressed by the Spanish occupation, a strong thread of Chamorro culture is still alive and well on Guam today.
Is Guam Owned by the United States?
Today, as what’s called an “unincorporated territory,” Guam is considered to be U.S. soil.
But what, exactly, is an “unincorporated territory?”
Below, you’ll find the definition from the Department of the Interior, whose Office of Insular Affairs coordinates federal policy for Guam, as well as several other U.S. territories:
Unincorporated territory: A United States insular area in which the United States Congress has determined that only selected parts of the United States Constitution apply.
And if you’re wondering what an “insular area” is, it’s more defined by what it’s not than what it is. An insular area is a “jurisdiction that is neither a part of one of the several States nor a Federal district.” In other words, Guam is neither a state nor a federal district, like the District of Columbia, and only parts of the Constitution apply to its citizens.
So what does that mean, practically? Most federal laws apply on Guam. However, all provisions of the U.S. Constitution do not.
So, for example:
- Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution establishes the U.S. House of Representatives and its members’ elections by the people of each state. Although Guam has the ability to elect a non-voting member of the U.S. House of Representatives, that member is unable to directly participate in creating legislation, since, as their title implies, they don’t have the ability to cast a vote.
- Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution establishes the U.S. Senate and the fact that each state gets to elect two representatives. Since it’s not a state, Guam and its citizens are not represented in the U.S. Senate.
- Finally, Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution establishes the procedure for electing the President of the U.S. The citizens of Guam, like the citizens of other territories like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, aren’t given the opportunity to cast their vote for president. Additionally, unlike the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Guam doesn’t have appointed electors. These electors form the Electoral College, which ultimately determines the results of the presidential election.
Why Isn’t Guam a U.S. State?
After reading about the rights that citizens of Guam lack, you might wonder why Guam hasn’t chosen to become a U.S. state.
It’s a complex issue, and U.S. statehood isn’t the only option for Guam. The possibilities on the table include:
- Independence – A situation in which Guam becomes a sovereign state, with the full power to control its future. Any assistance—either political, military, or economic—from the U.S. or any other nation would need to be negotiated.
- Statehood – This option would require new legislation, approved by the House and the Senate and signed by the President. Statehood comes with new rights—and new responsibilities.
- Free Association – In this type of arrangement, Guam would sign a Compact of Free Association with the U.S. that offers some mutual benefits while allowing the freely associated state (FAS) to become self-governing. The Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau are all freely associated states.
But, truly, the most important question is: What do the citizens of Guam want? To answer this question, the island prepared to take a non-binding vote, in which only “native inhabitants” were allowed to participate. Guam law defined “native inhabitants” as “persons who became U.S. citizens by virtue of the Guam Organic Act of 1950 and their descendants.” After a Yigo resident who was denied registration for the vote brought a lawsuit, federal courts ruled that the “native inhabitant” requirement was an illegal, race-based requirement that violated the Constitution.
The political status plebiscite, as it’s called—and who should be allowed to participate—is still under debate. Its results will offer significant insight on Guam’s future.
Are Citizens of Guam U.S. Citizens?
Yes. Under the 1950 Organic Act of Guam, everyone residing on Guam at the time of the act, as well as their descendants, was granted U.S. citizenship. In other words, citizens of Guam are U.S. citizens, and anyone born on Guam is eligible for U.S. citizenship.
Want to Learn More About Guam?
If you have more questions about Guam—or you just want to learn more about the island—we’ve got a couple of additional articles we think you’d enjoy:
And if you’re considering a move to Guam, we’d be happy to help! Our Tamuning-based team would love to help you make a safe, easy, and affordable move to Guam. Just reach out for a free quote to get started.