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SCOTUS hands down important decision in case examining birthright citizenship

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 is relatively straightforward when it comes to the issue of whether the children of unwed mothers and fathers may claim U.S. citizenship.

Indeed, the law sets forth stringent physical residency requirements dictating that in order for the child of an unmarried citizen father and non-citizen mother to secure citizenship, the father must have been physically present in the U.S. or one its territories for at least five years in their life prior to the child's birth, with at least two of these years being after their 14th birthday. 

Prior to November 14, 1986, however, the statute required physical presence in the U.S. or a U.S. territory for at least ten years prior to the child's birth, with at least five of these being after their 14th birthday.

As for children born to unwed citizen mothers, these requirements dictate that they need only be physically present in the U.S. or one its territories for a continuous period of one year prior to the birth in order for their child to secure citizenship.

Back in November, we discussed how these differing physical residency requirements under the INA were at the center of an important case before the Supreme Court of the United States -- Lynch v. Morales-Santana -- which asked whether they violate the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection.

To recap, Morales-Santana involved a man born in the Dominican Republic to unwed parents -- an American father and a Dominican mother -- back in 1962, and who was admitted to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident 13 years later.

After years of living in the U.S. and a conviction on attempted murder and armed robbery charges, federal immigration officials attempted to deport Morales-Santana. While he attempted to argue that deportation was legally impossible given that he had secured U.S. citizenship via his father, the Board of Immigration Appeals denied his claim given that his father had not satisfied the physical residency requirements for unmarried citizen fathers.

Undeterred, Morales-Santana filed an appeal arguing that the INA's physical residency requirement for unwed citizen fathers was discriminatory against men and violated the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection that ultimately made its way before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Here, the appellate court found that the provision was unconstitutional sex discrimination and declared that he was indeed a citizen.

The Department of Justice's subsequent petition for a writ of certiorari was granted by SCOTUS, which handed down its decision earlier this week. We'll discuss how the nation's high court ruled in our next post.

If you have questions about the process of securing citizenship, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional who can answer your questions, explain the law and help you pursue solutions.

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