Supreme Court: Gender-Based Distinctions In Immigration Law Violate Equal Protection

A federal citizenship statute setting different residency requirements for U.S. citizen fathers and mothers seeking to transmit birthright citizenship to their non-marital children born outside the U.S. violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled. Sessions v. Morales-Santana, No. 15-1191 (June 12, 2017)

The Immigration and Nationality Act provides the general method for a child born outside the U.S. to become a U.S. citizen at birth when one parent is a U.S. citizen who was physically present in the U.S. for a period of years and the other is not. An exception to the general method shortens the durational requirement where the child’s mother is an unmarried U.S. citizen. 8 U.S.C. § 1409(c).

Background

Luis Ramon Morales-Santana was born in 1962 in the Dominican Republic to unwed parents. His father was a U.S. citizen and lived in Puerto Rico for close to 20 years. At age 19, Morales-Santana’s father left Puerto Rico to obtain employment in the Dominican Republic. At the time of Morales-Santana’s birth, the rules of birthright citizenship for children born outside of the United States to one U.S. citizen parent provided that:

The U.S. citizen parent must have lived in the United States for at least 10 years and
Five of those years must have been after the age of 14.

(Congress has since lowered the requirement for parents of children born after 1986 to five years and two of those years after the age of 14.)

Morales-Santana’s father had left Puerto Rico 20 days before fulfilling the five-year requirement.

At age 13, Morales-Santana moved to the U.S., where he resided for most of his life. He was in his 50s when, fighting deportation for several convictions under the New York State Penal Code, he asserted that he should be granted U.S. citizenship because his father had been a U.S. citizen. Although Morales-Santana was not eligible because his father had left Puerto Rico before fulfilling the five-year requirement, Morales-Santana argued that he should be eligible because the rules at that time were discriminatory.

By Jackson Lewis for JDSupra
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