Supporting Question: “Does where you were born matter?”

Overview narrative:

Wong Kim Ark was born in San Francisco, CA in 1877 to parents who were born in China. He traveled to China several times to visit his wife and child who lived in China. On a planned return to San Francisco in 1894 a Customs Collector at the port of San Francisco denied Wong Kim Ark reentry into the United States. The Customs Collector argued that Wong Kim Ark was not a U.S. citizen, due to his parents’ Chinese citizenship, and therefore subject to the Chinese Exclusion Act. This was an attempt among anti-Chinese immigrant factions to deny citizenship to people of Chinese descent, born in the United States. In the case the United States District Attorney argued that:

“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, which would exempt him from the class or classes which are especially excluded from the United States by the provisions of the said acts.”

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of birthright citizenship for Wong Kim Ark in 1898, and from that point forward setting the precedent for all others born in the United States of immigrant parents.. 

Students may watch this video for an overview of the case of Wong Kim Ark: American Experience | United States v. Wong Kim Ark | Season 30 

Goal: The goal of this case study is to examine primary sources that portray various perspectives of who are determined to be citizens from the same source: the United States Government. Students will consider the compelling question, “Does where you were born matter?” The question takes on significance as the test case that determined that “jus soli” – a legal, Latin term, for  being born in a place – decided one’s citizenship status in the United States, versus a prevailing belief in the United States that “Jus sanguinis” – a legal, Latin term  for inheriting citizenship from one’s parents – took precedence.

Impacts: The United States Supreme Court affirmed birthright citizenship or “jus soli”  for all Chinese born in the United States, and all children of immigrants born in the United States. In the case of  the  United States vs Wong Kim Ark in 1898, the US Constitutional amendment established the precedent that any person born in the United States is a Citizen of the United States regardless of their parents’ status. 

Primary Documents:

Objectives: Students will consider the role of the 14th amendment in establishing birthright citizenship historically and today, and examine the question, “Does where you were born matter?”

Activities Based on Inquiry: “How was Wong Kim Ark’s citizenship status affected by his birth in the United States?”

Activity 1 

Perspective of Wong Kim Ark:

Students will review the document describing Wong Kim Ark as a person born in the United States and eligible to return from a trip to China. Students will employ the National Archives Analyze a written document form to explore the document. Can they identify evidence of his citizenship?

Activity 2:

Perspective of the US Supreme Court:

The Wong Kim Ark Supreme Court case provided the precedent for citizenship status for everyone born in the United States, known as birthright citizenship, established by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Students will take part as a group in the Thinking Routine Connect – Extend –  Challenge to explore how this precedent set by The Supreme Court regarding Wong Kim Ark’s citizenship claim impacted immigrants into the modern day. Students will discuss how important this decision may have been to their own families and ancestors who emigrated to the United States. Students will evaluate if the document is fact or opinion, and show evidence to support their assertions. 

To complete the case study, students will reflect on why examining the perspectives presented in this case study is important to them, their community, and the world by taking part in The 3 Y’s thinking routine.

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