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Immigration

Ruben Flores-Villar, San Diego Immigrant With U.S. Citizen Father, Must Return to Mexico After Supreme Court Deadlock

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Mon, Jun 13, 2011 at 12:15 PM

click to enlarge It's back to Tijuana for Flores-Villar
  • It's back to Tijuana for Flores-Villar
Bad news for immigrants hoping to inherit U.S. citizenship from their dads, even though their moms are foreigners: After five years in court, the Flores-Villar case is finally dead.

Its rejection was completed by a 4-4 deadlock in the Supreme Court today, bouncing the final word back to a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in 2010.

San Diego man Ruben Flores-Villar argued that the law automatically granting citizenship to babies with U.S. citizen mothers -- but not to those with U.S. citizen fathers -- was unconstitutionally gender-biased. Bullshit, said the appeals court:

A three-judge panel found that kids are more likely to be stranded in "statelessness" -- not belonging to any country, or lacking a true home -- if they can't inherit citizenship from their mom. The same was not found to be true for dads.

Cornell University Law School explains the court's 2010 decision here. An excerpt:

The United States notes that Congress, in formulating the residency requirement, was reconciling competing interests of preventing statelessness and ensuring that foreign-born children with parents of differing citizenships have sufficient ties to the United States to merit citizenship. ...

In addition, the United States contends that the balance Congress struck is rationally related to the unique statelessness risk faced by unwed mothers, and this legal reality demonstrates that unwed mothers and unwed fathers are not similarly situated.

Hm. We seem to remember America's original "residency requirement" as veering a little more favorably toward the interests of the huddled masses, but who are we to question the appointed channelers of the forefatherly vision?

And in the end, it's really a shame that Flores-Villar was the guy to carry this precedent to the Supreme Court, because his personal history is hard to look past. In 1997, the San Diego resident (born in Mexico when his father was just 16) was caught smuggling pot over the Tijuana border. Then, after serving his jailtime and being deported, Flores-Villar tried to hop the border fence at least six times before lawyering up, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Further watering down his case is the fact that dads can transmit citizenship in many circumstances:

Under the relevant immigration law, the unwed father of a child born outside the US to a non-citizen mother must have been present in the US for five years after age 14 to transmit citizenship to the newborn child.

US officials said it was impossible for Flores-Villar's father to satisfy the statutory requirement since he was 16 at the time of the birth.

In contrast, had it been Flores-Villar's mother who was the US citizen, the baby would have qualified immediately for American citizenship provided the mother had spent at least one continuous year in the US prior to the birth.

In such a tight Supreme Court deadlock -- 4 for, 4 against -- a more upstanding plaintiff might have wooed at least one naysayer over to the liberal side. Now we have a somewhat arbitrary, gender-biased precedent set for future immigrants. Bummer.

[@simone_electra/swilson@laweekly.com]

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