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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Wong Kim Ark - 169 U.S. 649, 18 S. Ct. 456 (1898)


U.S. Const. amend. XIV contemplates two sources of citizenship, and two only: Birth and naturalization. Citizenship by naturalization can only be acquired by naturalization under the authority and in the forms of law. But citizenship by birth is established by the mere fact of birth under the circumstances defined in the Constitution. Every person born in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, becomes at once a citizen of the United States, and needs no naturalization. A person born out of the jurisdiction of the United States can only become a citizen by being naturalized, either by treaty, as in the case of the annexation of foreign territory; or by authority of Congress, exercised either by declaring certain classes of persons to be citizens, as in the enactments conferring citizenship upon foreign-born children of citizens, or by enabling foreigners individually to become citizens by proceedings in the judicial tribunals, as in the ordinary provisions of the Naturalization Acts. 


Officials of the federal government challenged a writ of habeas corpus that was issued by a federal district court on behalf of Wong Kim Ark, who alleged that he was detained on his return to the United States and held on the grounds that he was not entitled to entry under certain acts of Congress that were known as the Chinese Exclusion Acts. Ark alleged he was a natural-born citizen of the United States of Chinese descent and had been domiciled in the United States prior to a temporary visit to China. The United States contended that Ark did not belong to any of the privileged classes enumerated in the Chinese Exclusion Acts, which would have exempted him from the classes of persons especially excluded by the provisions of the acts. The United States, however, conceded that if Ark was a citizen, the Chinese Exclusion Acts, prohibiting persons of the Chinese race from coming into the United States, did not apply to him. 


Was the grant of habeas corpus discharging Ark from the custody of the United States on the grounds that he was a citizen of the United States proper?




The United States Supreme Court affirmed the writ of habeas corpus on the grounds that the ancient and fundamental rule of citizenship by birth within the territory was constitutionally enshrined.

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