Nguyen v. Immigration and Naturalization Service

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November 2000
  • Fairness in the Courts
  • Litigation Case Document

Our Role in the Case

Legal Momentum argued the case at the Supreme Court. The American Civil Liberties Union and Nancy Falgout served as co-counsel.

Summary of Argument

Plaintiff Nguyen was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1969 to Boulais, an American father, and a Vietnamese mother. In Vietnam, Nguyen was cared for by Boulais and another Vietnamese woman whom Boulais later married, making her Nguyen's stepmother. Nguyen's natural mother abandoned him soon after birth and had no further contact with her son. After Saigon fell in 1975, Nguyen came to the U.S. as a refugee. He became a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. and was raised by his father and stepmother. Before Nguyen became an adult, neither Boulais nor Nguyen took the steps required by 8 U.S.C. § 1409 to confirm Nguyen's U.S. citizenship. In 1992, Nguyen was convicted of sexual assault and served his sentence. In 1995, the Immigration and Naturalization Service placed Nguyen in deportation proceedings. Opposing the deportation, Nguyen and his father challenged the constitutionality of 8 U.S.C. § 1409 under the equal protection clause of the Fifth Amendment.

8 U.S.C. § 1409, the federal statute governing the citizenship of out-of-wedlock children born outside the U.S. to only one U.S. citizen parent, sets forth different requirements based on the sex of the U.S. citizen parent. The citizen mother's child is automatically a U.S. citizen if the mother lived in the U.S. for at least one year at any time in her life. By contrast, the out-of-wedlock child of a U.S. citizen father must meet several additional requirements. Before the child's eighteenth birthday, the child must either be legitimated under the law of his residence, the father must acknowledge paternity under oath, or paternity must be established by a court. In addition, the father must agree to provide financial support for the child until he or she is eighteen.


The Supreme Court rejected Boulais' challenge, finding the statutory provision met the intermediate scrutiny standard applied to sex-based classifications. The court stressed that a citizen mother is likely to be present at the child's birth, whereas a citizen father may not even be aware that the child was conceived.