The Immigration and Nationality Act provides the framework for acquiring U.S. citizenship at birth by a child born outside the United States when one parent is a U.S. citizen and the other a citizen of another nation. Under 8 U.S.C. § 1401(a)(7) (1958 ed.), which was then the governing law, in the case of married couples, the U.S. citizen parent must have 10 years physical presence in the United States prior to the child’s birth, “at least five of which were after attaining” age 14.
This rule is made applicable to unwed U.S.-citizen fathers by Section 1409(a), but not to unwed U.S.-citizen mothers. Under Section 1409(c) there is an exception for unwed U.S.-citizen mothers whose citizenship can be transmitted to a child born abroad if the mother has lived continuously in the United States for just one year prior to the child’s birth.
Jose Morales, a United States citizen, moved to the Dominican Republic 20 days short of his 19th birthday, therefore failing to satisfy the requirement of Section 1401(a)(7) that he had at least five years physical presence in the United States after attaining age 14. There he lived with a Dominican woman who gave birth to Morales-Santana. Jose Morales later married Morales-Santana’s mother. Morales-Santana came to the United States. In 2000, he was placed in removal proceedings based on several criminal convictions. Morales-Santana claimed he could not be deported because he was a U.S. citizen at birth based on the U.S. citizenship of his biological father Jose Morales. An Immigration Judge denied Morales-Santana’s citizenship claim and ordered him removed. He later moved to reopen the proceedings asserting that the Government’s refusal to recognize that he derived citizenship from his U.S.-citizen father violated the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution. The Board of Immigration Appeals denied the motion. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed, holding that the differential treatment of unwed mothers and fathers was unconstitutional. The Court of Appeals further held that Morales-Santana derived citizenship through his father, just as he would were his mother the U.S. citizen.
On June 12, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Sessions v. Morales-Santana, No. 15-1191, that the difference in the residency requirement for unwed U.S. citizen fathers and mothers “violates the equal protection principle”. The Court said that Sections 1401 and 1409 “date from an era when the lawbooks of our Nation were rife with overbroad generalizations about the way men and women are. . . Today, laws of this kind are subject to review under the heightened scrutiny that now attends ‘all gender-based classifications’” During the era when Section 1409 was enacted (1940), “two once habitual, but now untenable, assumptions pervaded our Nation’s citizenship laws and underpinned judicial and administrative rulings: In marriage, husband is dominant, wife subordinate; unwed mother is the natural and sole guardian of a non-marital child.” §1409(a) and (c)’s discrete duration-of-residence requirements for unwed mothers and fathers who have accepted parental responsibility is stunningly anachronistic.” “Those disparate criteria . . . cannot withstand inspection under a Constitution that requires the Government to respect the equal dignity and stature of its male and female citizens.”
“While the equal protection infirmity in retaining a longer physical-presence requirement for unwed fathers than for unwed mothers is clear,” the Supreme Court held that it “is not equipped to grant the relief Morales-Santana seeks, i.e., extending to his father (and, derivatively, to him) the benefit of the one-year physical-presence term §1409(c) reserves for unwed mothers.” The court reasoned that “if §1409(c)’s one-year dispensation were extended to unwed citizen fathers, would it not be irrational to retain the longer term when the U. S.-citizen parent is married? Disadvantageous treatment of marital children in comparison to nonmarital children is scarcely a purpose one can sensibly attribute to Congress.” The Court suggested that “Congress may address the issue and settle on a uniform prescription that neither favors nor disadvantages any person on the basis of gender. In the interim, as the Government suggests, §1401(a)(7)’s now-five- year requirement should apply, prospectively, to children born to unwed U. S.-citizen mothers.”
OBSERVATION: This was a “Pyrrhic victory” for Morales-Santana. He won the argument that the different residency requirements for unwed fathers and mothers denied equal protection of the laws, but lost the case because the court could not grant him U.S. citizenship that would have been a solid defense in his deportation proceedings.
What's Up Atty 2017 06 14 Gender discrimination in citizenship law