"By Accident of Birth": The Battle for Birthright Citizenship after United States v. Wong Kim Ark

39 Pages Posted: 21 Sep 2021

See all articles by Amanda Frost

Amanda Frost

American University - Washington College of Law

Date Written: September 7, 2021

Abstract

In theory, birthright citizenship has been well established in U.S. law since 1898, when the Supreme Court held in United States v. Wong Kim Ark that all born on U.S. soil are U.S. citizens. The experience of immigrants and their families over the last 120 years tells a different story, however. This article draws on government records documenting the Wong family’s struggle for legal recognition to illuminate the convoluted history of birthright citizenship.

Newly discovered archival materials reveal that Wong Kim Ark and his family experienced firsthand, and at times shaped, the fluctuating relationship between immigration, citizenship, and access to civil and political rights. The U.S. government reacted to its loss in Wong’s case at first by refusing to accept the rule of birthright citizenship, and then by creating onerous proof-of-citizenship requirements that obstructed recognition of birthright citizenship for certain ethnic groups. But the Wong family’s story is not only about the use and abuse of government power. Government records reveal that the Wongs, like others in their position, learned how to use the immigration bureaucracy to their own advantage, enabling them to establish a foothold in the United States despite the government’s efforts to bar them from doing so.

Keywords: birthright citizenship, jus soli, fourteenth amendment, legal history, paper son, immigration

Suggested Citation

Frost, Amanda, "By Accident of Birth": The Battle for Birthright Citizenship after United States v. Wong Kim Ark (September 7, 2021). Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities, Vol. 32, No. 1, 2021, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3926759

Amanda Frost (Contact Author)

American University - Washington College of Law ( email )

4300 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

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