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Nguyen v. Immigration & Naturalization Service

Citation. Nguyen v. Immigration & Naturalization Service, 533 U.S. 53 (U.S. 2001)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Nguyen appealed against the citizenship determination of 8 U.S.C. § 1409(a) when the statute identified Nguyen as deportable due to his mother being an alien and his father being a citizen.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

When a child is born overseas and out of wedlock, strict proof of paternity rather than maternity is constitutional to prove the child’s citizenship if the child is born to only one citizen parent.


Nguyen was born in Vietnam to an American father and a Vietnamese mother. At the age of six Nguyen migrated to the United States where he obtained lawful permanent residence and at the age of twenty-two Nguyen was subject to deportation proceedings due to sexual assault charges. At his immigration hearing, Nguyen was determined not to be a citizen because his citizenship did not comply with 8 U.S.C. § 1409(a) that establishes the citizenship requirements for children born out of wedlock to alien mothers and fathers who are citizens. Nguyen appealed to the circuit court of appeals alleging that § 1409 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and the circuit court rejected the appeal.


Whether a statute that requires different routes for citizenship depending on whether the child’s mother or father is a citizen violates the Equal Protection Clause?


No. Affirmed.


(O’Connor, J.) The Immigration and Naturalization Service failed to satisfy its burden of proof by showing how the gender-based classification of parentage reaches government prescribed objectives.


(Scalia, J.) The court does not have the power to determine the citizenship of Nguyen, as citizenship is a power of Congress.


The requirement of strict proof of paternity is to determine both a biological parent-child relationship and the existence of an actual bond. Such requirements are not necessary for maternity because a mother develops a biological relationship and develops an actual bond solely by giving birth. Such requirements for paternity exist to prove that fathers acknowledge the existence of illegitimate children born overseas because the ease of travel allows for fathers to conceive with alien women and not be aware of the existence of a child. Equal Protection cannot deny the reality of children being born out of wedlock and their relationship to their fathers.

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