United States v. Wong Kim Ark

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Wong Kim Ark was born in the United States, but denied entry after leaving to visit China. His case went to the Supreme Court where they ruled that the government could not deny citizenship to anyone born in the United States.

United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898) was a United States Supreme Court decision that set important precedent about what determines citizenship.

Contents

Facts

Wong Kim Ark was born in 1873 in San Francisco, California. He worked as a laborer. His parents were immigrants from China, and were not United States citizens.

In late 1889, when Wong Kim Ark was about seventeen years old, he went to China on a temporary visit. When he returned in July 1890, he was permitted to enter the United States, upon the sole ground that he was a native-born citizen of the United States. In 1894, when he was about twenty-one years old, he again went to China on a temporary visit. When he returned in August 1895, he was denied permission to enter the country. The denial was based solely on the ground that he was not a citizen of the United States.

Issue

Congress had enacted a law, known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting persons of the Chinese race, and especially Chinese laborers, from coming into the United States. However, the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution defined citizenship: All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

The Court was called upon to decide whether the exclusion of an American-born person within the category described in the Act could consitutionally be excluded from the country.

Result

The Supreme Court ruled in a 6-2 decision that the government could not deny citizenship to anyone born in the United States.

Dissent

The case was controversial, because the long history of English common law had held that citizenship was not determined by place of birth, but by parental citizenship. In a dissent written by Melville Fuller and joined by John Harlan, he writes:

I submit that it is unreasonable to conclude that "naturalborn citizen" applied to everybody born within the geographical tract known as the United States, irrespective of circumstances; and that the children of foreigners, happening to be born to them while passing through the country, whether of royal parentage or not, or whether of the Mongolian, Malay, or other race, were eligible to the presidency, while children of our citizens, born abroad, were not.

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