United States v. Wong Kim Ark

Decision Date28 March 1898
Docket NumberNo. 132,132
Citation169 U.S. 649,42 L.Ed. 890,18 S.Ct. 456
PartiesUNITED STATES v. WONG KIM ARK
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

This was a writ of habeas corpus, issued October 2, 1895, by the district court of the United States for the Northern district of California, to the collector of customs at the port of San Francisco, in behalf of Wong Kim Ark, who alleged that he was a citizen of the United States, of more than 21 years of age, and was born at San Francisco in 1873, of parents of Chinese descent, and subjects of the emperor of China, but domiciled residents at San Francisco; and that, on his return to the United States on the steamship Coptic, in August, 1895, from a temporary visit to China, he applied to said collector of customs for permission to land, and was by the collector refused such permission, and was restrained of his liberty by the collector, and by the general manager of the steamship company acting under his direction, in violation of the constitution and laws of the United States, not by virtue of any judicial order or proceeding, but solely upon the pretense that he was not a citizen of the United States.

At the hearing, the district attorney of the United States was permitted to intervene in behalf of the United States, in opposition to the writ, and stated the grounds of his intervention in writing, as follows:

'That, as he is informed and believes, the said person in whose behalf said application was made is not entitled to land in the United States, or to be or remain therein, as is alleged in said application, or otherwise.

'Because the said Wong Kim Ark, although born in the city and county of San Francisco, state of California, United States of America, is not, under the laws of the state of California and of the United States, a citizen thereof, the mother and father of the said Wong Kim Ark being Chinese persons, and subjects of the emperor of China, and the said Wong Kim Ark being also a Chinese person, and a subject of the emperor of China.

'Because the said Wong Kim Ark has been at all times, by reason of his race, language, color, and dress, a Chinese person, and now is, and for some time last past has been, a laborer by occupation.

'That the said Wong Kim Ark is not entitled to land in the United States, or to be or remain therein, because he does not belong to any of the privileged classes enumerated in any of the acts of congress, known as the 'Chinese Exclusion Acts,'1 which would exempt him from the class or classes which are especially excluded from the United States by the provisions of the said acts.

'Wherefore the said United States attorney asks that a judgment and order of this honorable court be made and entered in accordance with the allegations herein contained, and that the said Wong Kim Ark be detained on board of said vessel until released as provided by law, or otherwise to be returned to the country from whence he came, and that such further order be made as to the court may seem proper and legal in the premises.'

h e case was submitted to the decision of the court upon the following facts agreed by the parties:

'That the said Wong Kim Ark was born in the year 1873, at No. 751 Sacramento street, in the city and county of San Francisco, state of California, United States of America, and that his mother and father were persons of Chinese descent, and subjects of the emperor of China, and that said Wong Kim Ark was and is a laborer.

'That at the time of his said birth his mother and father were domiciled residents of the United States, and had established and enjoyed a permanent domicile and residence therein, at said city and county of San Francisco, state aforesaid.

'That said mother and father of said Wong Kim Ark continued to reside and remain in the United States until the year 1890, when they departed for China.

'That during all the time of their said residence in the United States, as domiciled residents therein, the said mother and father of said Wong Kim Ark were engaged in the prosecution of business, and were never engaged in any diplomatic or official capacity under the emperor of China.

'That ever since the birth of said Wong Kim Ark, at the time and place hereinbefore stated and stipulated, he has had but one residence, to wit, a residence in said state of California, in the United States of America, and that he has never changed or lost said residence or gained or acquired another residence, and there resided claiming to be a citizen of the United States.

'That in the year 1890 the said Wong Kim Ark departed for China, upon a temporary visit, and with the intention of returning to the United States, and did return thereto on July 26, 1890, on the steampship Gaelic, and was permitted to enter the United States by the collector of customs, upon the sole ground that he was a native-born citizen of the United States.

'That, after his said return, the said Wong Kim Ark remained in the United States, claiming to be a citizen thereof, until the year 1894, when he again departed for China upon a temporary visit, and with the intention of returning to the United States, and did return thereto in the month of August, 1895, and applied to the collector of customs to be permitted to land; and that such application was denied upon the sole ground that said Wong Kim Ark was not a citizen of the United States.

'That said Wong Kim Ark has not, either by himself or his parents acting for him, ever renounced his allegiance to the United States, and that he has never done or committed any act or thing to exclude him therefrom.'

The court ordered Wong Kim Ark to be discharged, upon the ground that he was a citizen of the United States. 71 Fed. 382. The United States appealed to this court.

Sol. Gen. Conrad, for the United States.

Thomas D. Riordan, Maxwell Evarts, and J. Hubley Ashton, for appellee.

Mr. Justice GRAY, after stating the facts in the foregoing language, delivered the opinion of the court.

The facts of this case, as agreed by the parties, are as follows: Wong Kim Ark was born in 1873, in the city of San Francisco, in the state of California and United States of America, and was and is a laborer. His father and mother were persons of Chinese descent, and subjects of the emperor of China. They were at the time of his birth domiciled residents of the United States, having previously established and are still enjoying a permanent domicile and residence therein at San Francisco. They continued to reside and remain in the United States until 1890, when they departed for China; and, during all the time of their residence in the United States, they were engaged in business, and were never employed in any diplomatic or official capacity under the emperor of China. Wong Kim Ark, ever since his birth, has had but one residence, to wit, in California, within the United States and has there resided, claiming to be a citizen of the United States, and has never lost or changed that residence, or gained or acquired another residence; n d neither he, nor his parents acting for him, ever renounced his allegiance to the United States, or did or committed any act or thing to exclude him therefrom. In 1890 (when he must have been about 17 years of age) he departed for China, on a temporary visit, and with the intention of returning to the United States, and did return thereto by sea in the same year, and was permitted by the collector of customs to enter the United States, upon the sole ground that he was a native-born citizen of the United States. After such return, he remained in the United States, claiming to be a citizen thereof, until 1894, when he (being about 21 years of age, but whether a little above or a little under that age does not appear) again departed for China on a temporary visit, and with the intention of returning to the United States; and he did return thereto, by sea, in August, 1895, and applied to the collector of customs for permission to land, and was denied such permission, upon the sole ground that he was not a citizen of the United States.

It is conceded that, if he is a citizen of the United States, the acts of congress known as the 'Chinese Exclusion Acts,' prohibiting persons of the Chinese race, and especially Chinese laborers, from coming into the United States, do not and cannot apply to him.

The question presented by the record is whether a child born in the United States, of parents of Chinese descent, who at the time of his birth are subjects of the emperor of China, but have a permanent domicile and residence in the United States, and are there carrying on business, and are not employed in any diplomatic or official capacity under the emperor of China, becomes at the time of his birth a citizen of the United States, by virtue of the first clause of the fourteenth amendment of the constitution: '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.'

I. In construing any act of legislation, whether a statute enacted by the legislature, or a constitution established by the people as the supreme law of the land, regard is to be had, not only to all parts of the act itself, and of any former act of the same lawmaking power, of which the act in question is an amendment, but also to the condition and to the history of the law as previously existing, and in the light of which the new act must be read and interpreted.

The constitution of the United States, as originally adopted, uses the words 'citizen of the United States' and 'natural-born citizen of the United States.' By the original constitution, every representative in congress is required to have been 'seven years a citizen of the United States,' and every senator to have been 'nine years a citizen of the United States'; and 'no person except a natural-born citizen, or a citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of this constitution, shall be eligible to the...

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