WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to referee a dispute about an odd piece of U.S. citizenship law that treats men and women differently.
The justices said they will hear a case about a law that applies only to children born outside the U.S. to one parent who is an American and one who is not. The law makes it easier for children whose mother is a citizen to become citizens themselves. Even after reform legislation in 1986, children of American fathers face higher hurdles claiming citizenship for themselves.
The federal appeals court in New York struck down the law in the case of Luis Ramon Morales-Santana. He challenged the law and asserted he is a U.S. citizen after U.S. authorities sought to deport him after convictions for robbery and attempted murder.
Morales-Santana is the son a of a Dominican mother and an American father, who left Puerto Rico for the Dominican Republic 20 days before his 19th birthday. For people born before 1986 to parents who are not married, their U.S. citizen fathers had to have lived in the U.S. for 10 years, at least five of them after the age of 14. Morales-Santana’s father missed meeting the second part of that requirement by 20 days.
American mothers need only have lived in the U.S. continuously for a year before the birth of a child.
Changes to immigration law made in 1986 reduced the total residency time for fathers to five years, only two of which had to be after the age of 14.
By contrast, a child born in the United States, regardless of the parents’ nationality, is a U.S. citizen, as is a child born abroad to two American citizens if one of them has ever lived in the United States.
The justices attempted to answer this question in 2011, but divided 4-4 with Justice Elena Kagan out of the case because she worked on while serving in the Justice Department. This time around, the case will again be heard by eight justices, but with Kagan taking part.
The case, Lynch v. Morales-Santana, 15-1191, will be argued in the fall.