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The U.S. Supreme Court Rules in the case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark

In 1895, Wong Kim Ark returned to San Francisco, the city of his birth, from a trip to China. Customs officials denied him re-entry to the country and detained him, claiming that he was not a citizen; because of the Chinese Exclusion Act passed in 1882, he could not enter as an immigrant. With the help of the Chinese consulate and the Chinese Six Companies, he sued in federal district court to be allowed to enter the U.S. and won. The U.S. government appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 1898 that Wong Kim Ark was a citizen of the United States.

The facts of this case, as agreed by the parties, are as follows:

Wong Kim Ark was born in 1873 in the city of San Francisco, in the State of California and United States of America, and was and is a laborer. His father and mother were persons of Chinese descent, and subjects of the Emperor of China; they were at the time of his birth domiciled residents of the United States, having previously established and still enjoying a permanent residence therein at San Francisco; they continued to reside and remain in the United States until 1890, when they departed for China; and during all the time of their residence in the United States they were engaged in business . . . Wong Kim Ark, ever since his birth, has had but one residence…in California, within the United States, and has there resided, claiming to be a citizen of the United States, and has never lost or changed that residence, or gained or acquired another residence; and neither he, nor his parents acting for him, ever renounced his allegiance to the United States, or did or committed any act or thing to exclude him therefrom. In 1890 (when he must have been about seventeen years of age) he departed for China on a temporary visit and with the intention of returning to the United States, and did return thereto by sea in the same year, and was permitted by the collector of customs to enter the United States, upon the sole ground that he was a native-born citizen of the United States. After such return, he remained in the United States…until 1894, when he…again departed for China on a temporary visit and with the intention of returning to the United States; and he did return thereto by sea in August, 1895, and applied to the collector of customs for permission to land; and was denied such permission, upon the sole ground that he was not a citizen of the United States, the acts of Congress, known as the Chinese Exclusion Acts, prohibiting persons of the Chinese race, and especially Chinese laborers, from coming into the United States, do not and cannot apply to him. . . .

The fact, therefore, that acts of Congress or treaties have not permitted Chinese persons born out of this country to become citizens by naturalization, cannot exclude Chinese persons born in this country from the operation of the broad and clear words of the Constitution, “All persons born in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.” . . .

[T]his case . . . present[s] for determination the single question . . . namely, whether a child born in the United States, of parents of Chinese descent, who, at the time of his birth, are subjects of the Emperor of China, but have a permanent domicile and residence in the United States . . . becomes at the time of his birth a citizen of the United States. For the reasons above stated, this court is of opinion that the question must be answered in the affirmative.

Source | Cornell University Law School, Supreme Court Collection, United States v. Wong Kim Ark, http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0169_0649_ZS.html.
Creator | U.S. Supreme Court
Item Type | Laws/Court Cases
Cite This document | U.S. Supreme Court, “The U.S. Supreme Court Rules in the case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed March 18, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/871.

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