1898 March 28

Supreme Court Rules That Child Born to Chinese Immigrants is U.S. Citizen


In the case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark, decided on this day, the Supreme Court ruled that children born in the United States to Chinese immigrants were citizens of the United States. Wong Kim Ark had been born in San Francisco in 1871, left the U.S. for a trip abroad, and was then denied reentry under the terms of the Chinese Exclusion Act of May 6, 1882, ruling that he was not an American citizen.

The decision actually extended beyond the question of Chinese-Americans and meant that, under the Fourteenth Amendment and the 1866 Civil Rights Act, all persons, regardless of race, born in the U.S. are bona fide citizens.

The 14th Amendment: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

The Court: “In the forefront both of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution and of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the fundamental principle of citizenship by birth within the dominion was reaffirmed in the most explicit and comprehensive terms.”

Read: Erika Lee, At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration During the Exclusion Era, 1882–1943 (2003)

Learn more about the Chinese Exclusion Act: http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/immigration/exclusion.html

Learn more about all the major court decisions regarding citizenship (beginning with the Dred Scott decision): http://www.historycommons.org/timeline.jsp?timeline=civilliberties&civilliberties_privacy=civilliberties_citizenship_rights

Learn about the history of Chinese women in America: https://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/chinese/1.html

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