Naturalized and Native-Born Citizens

I’ve come across a curious case written by Justice Sutherland that may be of interest to immigration lawyers. Chung Fook v. White, 264 U.S. 443 (1924) involved a native-born American citizen who wife was a Chinese alien. She was denied entry to the United States because she was ill with some contagious disease (the opinion does not say what it was).  The relevant statute said the following:

“That if the person sending for wife or minor child is naturalized, a wife to whom married or a minor child born subsequent to such husband or father’s naturalization shall be admitted without detention for treatment in hospital.”

Chung Fook argued that if the wife of a naturalized citizen could be admitted and get medical treatment, then surely he, as a native-born citizen, could do the same for his wife.  The Court conceded that it was strange to say that a naturalized citizen possessed a right greater than a native-born citizen.  Nevertheless, “naturalized” could not be read to mean “native-born.” What explains this?  The answer is that immigration law at the time said that the wife of a native-born citizen was deemed a citizen for purposes of entry unless she was Chinese.  That was the effect of a provision that said that only people who could be naturalized could be deemed constructive citizens.  At this time, of course, Chinese aliens could not be naturalized.

Still, I think this is probably the only instance in our history where a native-born citizen was at a disadvantage to a naturalized one.

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5 Responses

  1. Joe says:

    The lower court cited the disease as clonorchiasis, which Wikipedia tells me is caused by the “Chinese liver fluke” and one gets “infected by eating undercooked, smoked, pickled salted freshwater fish.”

  2. Joe says:

    The opinion ends thusly:

    “The words of the statute being clear, if it unjustly discriminates against the native-born citizen, or is cruel and inhuman in its results, as forcefully contended, the remedy lies with Congress and not with the courts. Their duty is simply to enforce the law as it is written, unless clearly unconstitutional.”

    From today’s vantage point, would this be “clearly unconstitutional”? I hope so.

  3. AndyK says:

    Why? The lodestar of EP jurisprudence is intentional discrimination, not disparate impact. Passing a law to benefit one group (leaving out those cases of scarce resources) without having other groups in mind cannot violate EP absent evidence of conscious, directed discrimination.

    I would say this case is still very good law, as far as constitutional jurisprudence is concerned. Apply the law until such time as it is amended.

  4. AndyK says:

    But I agree it’s a stupid law, so far as that goes.

  5. Joe says:

    I don’t understand the reference to “disparate impact.” It looks to me like is it a classification. It isn’t some neutral law that for whatever reason has disparate results.

    If you by design benefit “one group” alone, you have to have a reasonable ground to do so. If the classification is illegitimate, it is unconstitutional.

    Native born and naturalized are supposed to be on an equal footing in nearly every case (one special exception I believe is you can have your citizenship revoked if naturalized on the basis of fraud).

    What is the reasonable ground for which they are not here? The OP explains the law as an anti-Chinese measure. Is that a legitimate, today, reason to so differentiate?