United States v. Wong Kim Ark

Facts of the Case

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.

Question

Is a child who was born in the United States to Chinese-citizen parents who are lawful permanent residents of the United States a U.S. citizen under the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

CONCLUSION

Because Wong was born in the United States and his parents were not “employed in any diplomatic or official capacity under the Emperor of China,” the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment automatically makes him a U.S. citizen. Justice Horace Gray authored the opinion on behalf of a 6-2 majority, in which the Court established the parameters of the concept known as jus soli—the citizenship of children born in the United States to non-citizens. Justice Joseph McKenna took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Case Information

  • Citation: 169 US 649 (1898)
  • Argued: Mar 5, 1897
  • Decided Mar 28, 1898