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Sessions v. Morales-Santana

Justia Summary

The Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. 1401(a)(7), provides a path to citizenship for a child born abroad if the child’s U.S.-citizen parent has 10 years’ physical presence in the U.S. before the child’s birth, “at least five of which were after attaining” age 14. Section 1409(c) provides that an unwed U.S.-citizen mother's citizenship can be transmitted to a child born abroad if she has lived continuously in the U.S. for one year before the child’s birth. Morales-Santana’s father, José, moved to the Dominican Republic 20 days before his 19th birthday, so he did not satisfy 1401(a)(7)’s requirement for physical presence after age 14. A Dominican woman gave birth to Morales-Santana in 1962. José accepted parental responsibility. Morales-Santana has lived in the U.S. since he was 13. In 2000, the government sought to remove Morales-Santana based on criminal convictions, ranking him as alien. The Supreme Court affirmed the Second Circuit, ruling in Morales-Santana’s favor. The statute’s gender line is incompatible with the Fifth Amendment’s equal protection requirement. Morales-Santana has third-party standing to vindicate his deceased father’s rights. The Court applied “heightened scrutiny” and found no important governmental interest for the law’s “overbroad generalizations.” Given the choice between extending favorable treatment to the excluded class or withdrawing favorable treatment from the favored class, the Court noted that extension of favorable treatment to fathers would displace Congress’ general rule, the longer physical-presence requirements. Pending Congressional action, the five-year requirement should apply, prospectively, to children born to unwed U.S-citizen mothers.

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