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CRS Annotated Constitution

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Rights of Naturalized Persons

Chief Justice Marshall early stated in dictum that “[a] naturalized citizen . . . becomes a member of the society, possessing all the rights of a native citizen, and standing, in the view of the Constitution, on the footing of a native. The Constitution does not authorize Congress to enlarge or abridge those rights. The simple power of the national legislature is, to prescribe a uniform rule of naturalization, and the exercise of this power exhausts it, so far as respects the individual.”1162 A similar idea was expressed in Knauer v. United States.1163 “Citizenship obtained through naturalization is not a second–class citizenship. . . . [It] carries with it the privilege of full participation in the affairs of our society, including the right to speak freely, to criticize officials and administrators, and to promote changes in our laws including the very Charter of our Government.”

Despite these dicta, it is clear that particularly in the past but currently as well a naturalized citizen has been and is subject to requirements not imposed on native–born citizens. Thus, as we have noted above, a naturalized citizen is subject at any time to have his good faith in taking the oath of allegiance to the United States inquired into and to lose his citizenship if lack of such faith is shown in proper proceedings.1164 And the naturalized citizen within a year of his naturalization will join a questionable organi[p.271]zation at his peril.1165 In Luria v. United States,1166 the Court sustained a statute making prima facie evidence of bad faith a naturalized citizen’s assumption of residence in a foreign country within five years after the issuance of a certificate of naturalization.But in Schneider v. Rusk,1167 the Court voided a statute that provided that a naturalized citizen should lose his United States citizenship if following naturalization he resided continuously for three years in his former homeland. “We start,” Justice Douglas wrote for the Court, “from the premise that the rights of citizenship of the native–born and of the naturalized person are of the same dignity and are coextensive. The only difference drawn by the Constitution is that only the ‘natural born’ citizen is eligible to be President.”1168 The failure of the statute, the Court held, was that it impermissibly distinguished between native–born and naturalized citizens, denying the latter the equal protection of the laws.1169 “This statute proceeds on the impermissible assumption that naturalized citizens as a class are less reliable and bear less allegiance to this country than do the native–born. This is an assumption that is impossible for us to make. . . . A native–born citizen is free to reside abroad indefinitely without suffering loss of citizenship. The discrimination aimed at naturalized citizens drastically limits their rights to live and work abroad in a way that other citizens may. It creates indeed a second–class citizenship. Living abroad, whether the citizen be naturalized or native–born, is no badge of lack of allegiance and in no way evidences a voluntary renunciation of nationality and allegiance.”1170

The Schneider equal protection rationale was abandoned in the next case in which the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment forbade involuntary expatriation of naturalized persons.1171 But in Rogers v. Bellei,1172 the Court refused to extend this holding to persons statutorily naturalized at birth abroad because one of their parents was a citizen and similarly refused to apply Schneider. Thus, one who failed to honor a condition subsequent had his citizenship revoked. “Neither are we persuaded that a condition subse[p.272]quent in this area impresses one with ‘second–class citizenship.’ That cliche is too handy and too easy, and, like most cliches, can be misleading. That the condition subsequent may be beneficial is apparent in the light of the conceded fact that citizenship was fully deniable. The proper emphasis is on what the statute permits him to gain from the possible starting point of noncitizenship, not on what he claims to lose from the possible starting point of full citizenship to which he has no constitutional right in the first place. His citizenship, while it lasts, although conditional, is not ‘second–class.”’1173

It is not clear where the progression of cases has left us in this area. Clearly, naturalized citizens are fully entitled to all the rights and privileges of those who are citizens because of their birth here. But it seems equally clear that with regard to retention of citizenship, naturalized citizens are not in the secure position of citizens born here.1174

On another point, the Court has held that, absent a treaty or statute to the contrary, a child born in the United States who is taken during minority to the country of his parents’ origin, where his parents resume their former allegiance, does not thereby lose his American citizenship and that it is not necessary for him to make an election and return to the United States.1175 On still another point, it has been held that naturalization is so far retroactive as to validate an acquisition of land prior to naturalization as to which the alien was under a disability.1176


1162 Osborn v. Bank of the United States, 9 Wheat. (22 U.S.) 737, 827 (1824). One must be aware, however, that this language does not appear in any case having to do with citizenship or naturalization or the rights of naturalized citizens and its force may be therefore questioned. Compare Afroyim v. Rusk, 387 U.S. 253, 261 (1967) (Justice Black for the Court: “a mature and well–considered dictum . . .”), with id., 275–276 (Justice Harlan dissenting: the dictum, “cannot have been intended to reach the question of citizenship.”). The issue in Osborn was the right of the Bank to sue in federal court. Osborn had argued that the fact that the bank was chartered under the laws of the United States did not make any legal issue involving the bank one arising under the laws of the United States for jurisdictional purposes; to argue the contrary, Osborn contended, was like suggesting that the fact that persons were naturalized under the laws of Congress meant such persons had an automatic right to sue in federal courts, unlike natural– born citizens. The quoted language of Marshall’s rejects this attempted analogy.
1163 328 U.S. 654, 658 (1946).
1164 Johannessen v. United States, 225 U.S. 227 (1912); Knauer v. United States, 328 U.S. 654 (1946); Costello v. United States, 365 U.S. 265 (1961).
1165 See 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1451 (c).
1166 231 U.S. 9 (1913). The provision has been modified to reduce the period to one year. 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1451 (d).
1167 377 U.S. 163 (1964).
1168 Id., 165.
1169 While there is no equal protection clause specifically applicable to the Federal Government, it is established that the due process clause of the fifth Amendment forbids discrimination in much the same manner as the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
1170 Schneider v. Rusk, 377 U.S. 163, 168–169 (1964).
1171 Afroyim v. Rusk, 387 U.S. 253 (1967).
1172 401 U.S. 815 (1971).
1173 Id., 835–836.
1174 At least, there is a difference so long as Afroyim prevents Congress from making expatriation the consequence of certain acts when done by natural born citizens as well.
1175 Perkins v. Elg, 307 U.S. 325 (1939). The qualifying phrase “absent a treaty or statute . . .” is error now, so long as Afroyim remains in effect. But note Rogers v. Bellei, 401 U.S. 815, 832–833 (1971).
1176 Governeur v. Robertson, 11 Wheat. (24 U.S.) 332 (1826); Osterman v. Baldwin, 6 Wall. (73 U.S.) 116 (1867); Manuel v. Wulff, 152 U.S. 505 (1894).
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