Nguyen v. Immigration and Naturalization Service Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Nguyen ruling upheld a federal law giving a gender-based preference in rights to citizenship of illegitimate children born abroad when only one parent is a U.S. citizen.

Tuan Anh Nguyen, who was born out of wedlock in Vietnam, was the son of an American father and a Vietnamese mother. At the age of five, the boy was brought to the United States and raised by his father. When he was twenty-two years old, Nguyen was found guilty of sexually abusing a young child. Under U.S. law, a child born to an unmarried American mother was automatically considered a natural-born citizen, whereas a child born to an unmarried father was not a citizen unless the father proved paternity with a blood test and formally claimed paternity before the child’s eighteenth birthday. Because the father had not satisfied these requirements, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) ruled that Nguyen was not a citizen and therefore deportable. Nguyen argued in federal court that the gender distinction in the law was discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional.[c]Nguyen v. Immigration and Naturalization ServiceChildren;Nguyen v. Immigration and Naturalization ServiceCitizenship;and children[children]Vietnamese immigrants;Nguyen v. Immigration and NaturalizationService[c]Nguyen v. Immigration and Naturalization ServiceChildren;Nguyen v. Immigration and Naturalization ServiceCitizenship;and children[children]Vietnamese immigrants;Nguyen v. Immigration and Naturalization Service[cat]COURT CASES;Nguyen v. Immigration and Naturalization Service[03890][cat]CITIZENSHIP AND NATURALIZATION;Nguyen v. Immigration and Naturalization Service[03890][cat]DEPORTATION;Nguyen v. Immigration and Naturalization Service[03890]

By a 5-4 margin, the Supreme Court held that Nguyen could be deported and that the gender distinction in the law was “consistent with the constitutional guarantee of equal protection.” Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy, AnthonyAnthony Kennedy explained that such distinctions are permissible if they serve “important governmental objectives” and employed means that are “substantially related to the achievement of those objectives.” While the majority concluded that the law satisfied the two standards because of different relationships between children with their mothers and fathers, Justice O’Connor, Sandra DaySandra Day O’Connor and three other justices vigorously disagreed.[c]Nguyen v. Immigration and Naturalization ServiceChildren;Nguyen v. Immigration and Naturalization ServiceCitizenship;and children[children]Vietnamese immigrants;Nguyen v. Immigration and Naturalization Service

Further Reading
  • O’Brien, David M. Constitutional Law and Politics. 7th ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 2008.
  • Phelan, Margaret, and James Gillespie. Immigration Law Handbook. 5th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Amerasian children

Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1987

Child immigrants

Citizenship

Congress, U.S.

Constitution, U.S.

Deportation

Supreme Court, U.S.

Vietnamese immigrants

Categories: History Content