On citizenship, the Constitution reigns supreme

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“All persons born or naturalized in the United States … are citizens of the United States…” — 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution

There are many Americans who do not believe in the Constitution of the United States and the 14th Amendment particularly draws their disdain.

For more than a century-and-a-half these people have convinced Congress to withhold or cancel citizenship or to deport people for little reason.

{mosads}The United States Supreme Court has even bent to the anti-immigrant will and influence making, issuing obnoxious rulings based on racial considerations (Dred Scott v. Sanford, United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind and Korematsu v. United States).


Anti-immigrant people have been with us since the beginning. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin lamented immigrants from Germany for not learning English and for their Roman Catholicism.

The anti-immigrant fervor spiked when Irish Catholics flowed into the United States in the 1840s and took form in the Know-Nothing political party that swept much of the country electing governors and congressmen.

The political effects of the Know-Nothing movement: The original 1790 citizenship law that allowed “free and white” people to become citizens was set aside by the post-Civil War Naturalization Act of 1870. It restricted citizenship specifically to “Caucasians and Africans.” Then came the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” President Teddy Roosevelt forced on Japan to end Japanese immigration.

Infamous Supreme Court decisions followed, in which the Court perpetuated racism by law.

In the case of Singh, a man from from India became a citizen claiming he was “white” on his application; his citizenship was revoked under the Naturalization Act of 1906.

The Court ruled he wasn’t “white” as commonly defined and as the Act required. India’s Indians were not permitted to become citizens until 1946. The Chinese beat them by three years.

In Korematsu v. United States, the Court ruled that the U.S. could declare an entire racial group dangerous enough during a time of war to incarcerate it on national security grounds. Some 120,000 Japanese nationals and Japanese American citizens were detained.

Associate Justice Frank Murphy wrote in his dissent to the 6-3 Korematsu decision: This is “one of the most sweeping and complete deprivations of constitutional rights in the history of this nation … I dissent, therefore, from this legalization of racism.” The Court has never overturned Korematsu.

Despite the courts making spectacularly wrong decisions based on race (e.g. Dred Scott, Singh and Korematsu), two late 19th century decisions make up for them.

In 1897, Texans challenged the swearing-in of American citizen-to-be Mexican Ricardo Rodriguez. He didn’t meet the “Caucasian or African” definition of the 1872 Citizenship Act.

Federal judge Thomas Maxey heard the case and then ruled that many Mexicans were automatically made citizens by the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe that ended the Mexican and American War. The treaty preempted any law. He ruled for Rodriguez.

The following year the Supreme Court ruled that a San Francisco-born man whose parents were Chinese nationals unable to become citizens was a citizen despite his parent’s inability.

The Wong Kim Ark (1898) case clearly defined natural born citizenship as per the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. If you are born here, you are a citizen despite your parent’s situation with three exceptions: The parent is a foreign diplomat, if the child is born on a foreign-flagged ship to non-citizens, or if a parent is part of an invading military force.

In June, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision (Maslenjak v. the United States) ruled that the United States cannot revoke citizenship because the citizen lied on citizenship applications if the lie was immaterial to the decision to grant citizenship.

This follows a famous 1967 decision, Afroyim v. Rusk. Beys Afroyim immigrated to the United States from Russian-occupied Poland in 1912. He became a naturalized citizen in 1926. In 1950 he went to Israel. He voted in Israeli elections.

In 1960 he applied for passport renewal and the State Department denied his renewal. The government claimed he violated Section 401(e) of the 1940 Nationality Act by voting in a foreign election. He sued and lost in district court and in the 2nd Circuit Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the lower courts (5-4) in 1967. Congress, the court declared, has no general power to revoke citizenship without consent of the citizen; only the citizen may “voluntarily relinquish citizenship.”

The 5-4 decision stated: “The 14th Amendment’s provision that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States … are citizens of the United States…” completely controls the status of citizenship, and prevents the cancellation of petitioner’s citizenship.”

These decisions make it clear there is a higher power than Congress or the president. It is the Constitution of the United States complete with its 14th Amendment that clearly states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States … are citizens of the United States…”

Period. It means what it says.

Raoul Lowery Contreras is the author of “The Armenian Lobby & American Foreign Policy”and “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade.” His work has appeared in the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags 14th Amendment Constitution Immigration SCOTUS Supreme Court

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