On November 9, 2016, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Lynch v. Morales-Santana. Morales-Santana’s father was born in Puerto Rico but acquired U.S. citizenship in 1917 under the Jones Act of Puerto Rico. Morales-Santana was born in 1962 in the Dominican Republic to his father and Dominican mother, who were unmarried at the time. In 1970, upon his parents’ marriage, he was statutorily “legitimated” and was admitted to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident in 1976.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which was in effect at the time of Morales-Santana’s birth, limits the ability of an unwed citizen father to confer citizenship on his child born abroad, where the child’s mother is not a citizen at the time of the child’s birth, more stringently than it limits the ability of a similarly situated unwed citizen mother to do the same.
In 2000, Morales-Santana was placed in removal proceedings after having been convicted of various felonies. An immigration judge denied his application for withholding of removal on the basis of derivative citizenship obtained through his father. He filed a motion to reopen in 2010, based on a violation of equal protection and newly obtained evidence relating to his father, but the Board of Immigration Appeals denied the motion. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the Board’s decision, however, and concluded that Morales-Santana was a citizen as of birth. The Attorney General of the United States then obtained a grant of certiorari from the Supreme Court.
The two questions before the Supreme Court were: (1) whether Congress’s decision to impose a different physical-presence requirement on unwed citizen mothers of foreign-born children than on other citizen parents of foreign-born children violates the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection; and (2) whether the court of appeals erred in conferring U.S. citizenship on respondent, in the absence of any express statutory authority to do so.
- Curt Levey, President, Committee for Justice; Legal Affairs Fellow, Freedom Works