Tuan Anh Nguyen v. INS (2001)

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Facts: Nguyen was born in Vietnam in 1969. His father was an American citizen, and his mother was a Vietnamese citizen. They were not married. He became a lawful permanent resident of the United States at age 6. At age 22, he pleaded guilty in the state of Texas to two serious felony offenses. An immigration judge ordered that he be deported. His father attempted to get a legal order proving his paternity while Nguyen appealed the deportation order. The Board of Immigration Appeals, however, denied the appeal. The board stated that Nguyen had not complied with the requirements of Title 8 of the U.S. Code, which governs foreign-born persons and nationality. Section 1409 of that law governs children born out of wedlock to non-citizen mothers and requires that one of three alternatives be taken before these children turn 18. The alternatives are (1) legitimization (the parents marry each other), (2) a declaration of paternity under oath by the father, or (3) a court order showing paternity.

Issues: Are the requirements of Section 1409 consistent with the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the Fifth Amendment even though they establish different requirements based on the gender of the citizen parent?

Holding: Yes. Section 1409 is consistent with the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law. For laws with gender-based classifications, the classification is constitutional if (1) it serves important government interests and (2) the classification is substantially related to the achievement of those objectives. In Nguyen's case, the Supreme Court found two important governmental interests in Section 1409. The first interest is assuring the existence of a biological parent-child relationship. The mother's relationship to the child can be proven by the birth itself and her name appearing on the birth certificate. According to the court, "fathers and mothers are not similarly situated with regard to proof of biological parenthood." The second interest is ensuring an opportunity for a relationship "that consists of real, everyday ties providing a connection between child and citizen parent and, in turn, the United States." Finally, Congress chose means that are substantially related to these two interests because (1) they require some action by the citizen parent before the child turns 18, and (2) they involve an "easily administered scheme to promote...an opportunity for that relationship to develop."