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BELLEI v. RUSK

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA


February 28, 1969

Aldo Mario BELLEI, Plaintiff,
v.
Dean RUSK, Secretary of State of the United States of America, Defendant

The opinion of the court was delivered by: LEVENTHAL

LEVENTHAL, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff, Aldo Mario Bellei, is a citizen of the United States by virtue of section 301(a)(7) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. That section confers American citizenship on children born of at least one American parent, even though such child is born outside of the United States. *fn1" Plaintiff brought this action against the Secretary of State to enjoin enforcement of section 301(b) of the 1952 Act, which if operative would terminate his American citizenship. Subsection (b) of § 301 places a limitation on the grant of citizenship made by section 301(a)(7) by making retention of American citizenship conditional upon completing a term of five years residence in the United States before age twenty-eight. *fn2" We hold that this section violates the requirements of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.

 I

 The pertinent facts have been stipulated. Plaintiff was born in Italy in December, 1939, of an Italian-born father and an American-born mother. Plaintiff's parents have always been and continue to be citizens of their respective native lands.

 Plaintiff, from birth, has been treated as an American citizen by the United States Government. He has been welcomed to this country without visas or other immigration papers required of foreigners. He has availed himself of his unlimited access to come to this country on several occasions and to visit with his mother's family. Plaintiff has also traveled at all times under American diplomatic protection. On his first two visits Bellei traveled on his mother's American passport. On the last two occasions when plaintiff visited the United States, he journeyed under his own American passport, which had been issued in 1952 and periodically renewed until 1964. He was subject to the military service laws and he registered for the draft in 1960. *fn3"

 This controversy arises out of the State Department's refusal to extend or renew plaintiff's passport. When plaintiff sought to have his passport renewed in 1964, the Department denied his request. In 1961 the passport renewal office had noted on plaintiff's passport, "Warned abt. 301(b)." Plaintiff, after that warning, sought renewal in January, 1963, stating in his application that he resided in Havertown, Pennsylvania, giving his occupation as student, and indicating that he intended to remain abroad only three months. His application was granted, but the passport was validated only through July, 1963. At the time of this renewal plaintiff was twenty-three years old.

 In July, 1963, plaintiff applied through the United States Embassy in Italy for a further extension. Again his request was honored, but he was reminded that he would no longer be considered a citizen, in view of section 301(b), if he remained abroad. The extension expired as of February 11, 1964. When plaintiff failed to return to this country prior to that date, the Department of State concluded that he was no longer a United States citizen, and he was orally informed of that conclusion by the American Embassy at Rome. His passport was accordingly deemed revoked. On February 14, plaintiff was also notified by the United States Selective Service that his liability for military service had terminated in view of his loss of citizenship. At that time plaintiff was over twenty-four years of age. Since 1964, plaintiff has again applied for an American passport and has had his request turned down by a formal letter from the American consul in Italy. *fn4"

 Plaintiff contends that enforcement of section 301(b) is contrary to the Fifth, Eighth, and Ninth Amendments to the Constitution. A three-judge court has been convened since the constitutionality of a federal law is drawn into question by this litigation. *fn5"

 II

 Plaintiff contends that section 301(b) operates to strip a citizen of his citizenship and rests his case primarily on the pillar of due process which has become a bulwark for the protection of citizenship in recent Supreme Court decisions. See Afroyim v. Rusk, 387 U.S. 253, 87 S. Ct. 1660, 18 L. Ed. 2d 757 (1967); Schneider v. Rusk, 377 U.S. 163, 84 S. Ct. 1187, 12 L. Ed. 2d 218 (1964). While the facts of both cases are distinguishable, we think the Afroyim and Schneider opinions do stand for the proposition that in the absence of fraud Congress may not withdraw a citizenship, whether acquired at birth or by subsequent grant, that is not voluntarily renounced. *fn6" The position urged by the Government would require us to accord a "niggardly" reading that we think is incompatible with the broad and forceful position put forward by the Supreme Court to protect an important constitutional right. Cf. Ullmann v. United States, 350 U.S. 422, 426, 76 S. Ct. 497, 100 L. Ed. 511 (1956).

 We turn first to Schneider v. Rusk, supra.7 That case involved a statutory provision which provided:

 

(a) A person who has become a national by naturalization shall lose his nationality by --

 

(1) having a continuous residence for three years in the territory of a foreign state of which he was formerly a national or in which the place of his birth is situated, except as provided in section 353 of this title, whether such residence commenced before or after the effective date of this Act * * *. Section 352, Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, 66 Stat. 163, 269, 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101, 1484.

 In holding that Congress could not constitutionally restrict the freedom of naturalized citizens to reside abroad in their native lands the Court said:

 

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. It may indeed be compelled by family, business, or other legitimate reasons. 377 U.S. at 168-169, 84 S. Ct. at 1190. *fn8"

  The Supreme Court's broad approach emerged even more clearly with Afroyim v. Rusk, *fn9" where the Court held that Congress could not take away citizenship from one who has not voluntarily relinquished it. The significance of Afroyim is illuminated by the fact that previously, following Perez v. Brownell, 356 U.S. 44, 78 S. Ct. 568, 2 L. Ed. 2d 603 (1958), the Court had, in Justice Black's words "consistently invalidated on a case-by-case basis various other statutory sections providing for involuntary expatriation. It has done so on various grounds and has refused to hold that citizens can be expatriated without their voluntary renunciation of citizenship." In Afroyim the Court overruled Perez, discarded the case-by-case approach, and sounded a general theme that was contrary to the previously stated assumption that Congress had the power to expatriate citizens in certain circumstances.

 

Citizenship is no light trifle * * *. The very nature of our free government makes it completely incongruous to have a rule of law under which a group of citizens temporarily in office can deprive another group of citizens of their citizenship. We hold that the Fourteenth Amendment was designed to, and does, protect every citizen of this Nation against forcible destruction of his citizenship, whatever his creed, color, or race. Our holding does no more than to give to this citizen that which is his own, a constitutional right to remain a citizen in a free country unless he voluntarily relinquishes that citizenship. 387 U.S. at 267-268, 87 S. Ct. at 1668.

 Section 301(a)(7) by its terms confers citizenship at birth. *fn10" Persons in plaintiff's situation are endowed at birth with American citizenship and all its incidents and they enjoy its benefits during their formative years. The provisions of subsection (b) would operate to terminate the citizenship status for those persons, previously recognized as citizens, who do not take the steps set forth in (b). While plaintiff did not take up residence in this country in 1963, as provided by section 301(b), he had declared his intention to do so. During this period of citizenship, he was subject to American jurisdiction as a citizen *fn11" and also subject to other duties of citizenship such as military service. Now he is independent of youthful ties to family and wants to come to the United States. In view of the prior grant of citizenship to plaintiff we do not think Congress can now slam the door in his face. Whatever the reason plaintiff remained abroad, family ties or schooling, Congress cannot terminate his citizenship on the ground that he only enjoyed a second-class citizenship, one that restricted his "rights to live and work abroad in a way that other citizens may." This is contrary to Schneider and Afroyim.

 III

 The Government relies on the fact that Schneider and Afroyim protected plaintiffs who traced their citizenship to naturalization. It is argued that the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause guards only that citizenship that is constitutionally conferred, citizenship acquired by birth in the United States or by naturalization, and is inapplicable to citizenship conferred by a statute that is not an act of naturalization. We see no basis for the distinction. It may be that there is more than one Constitutional source of Congressional authority to grant and define citizenship, that there is power deriving from the naturalization clause, Act I, § 8, cl. 4, and also authority *fn12" deriving from implied powers of Congress. *fn13" In any event, however, the recognition or grant of U.S. citizenship is lawful only because this is within the power of Congress under the Constitution.

 We see no basis for concluding that the Supreme Court was declaring a due process protection to citizenship granted by a naturalization act that did not extend to citizenship granted by another act. *fn14"

 The Government argues in the alternative that even if congressional power to enact conditions on citizenship is limited by due process, section 301(b) contains reasonable conditions and is, therefore, constitutional. It is urged that section 301(b) is simply a reasonable way of assuring that children of hybrid origin give some affirmative indication of desiring to be part of our society as well as avail themselves of our protection and the opportunity to come to this country whenever it proves expedient. *fn15" Our attention is directed to the background and legislative history of section 301 which, according to the Government, reveals that the purpose of subsection (b) of § 301 is to assure that these children of mixed allegiance have some connection to the state that is offering them its protection and other benefits of citizenship. *fn16"

 The Government's contention is not without appeal, and we have pondered the matter carefully. There is an undeniable danger that children, born and raised abroad, in a foreign home, where English may never be spoken, schooled where English is not taught, celebrating foreign holidays with the family of the non-American parent, will have no meaningful connection with the United States, its culture or heritage. It is a legitimate concern of Congress that those who bear American citizenship and receive its benefits have some nexus to the United States. *fn17" We hold only that Congress may not proceed by granting citizenship, and then either qualifying the grant by creating a second class citizenship or terminating the grant. *fn18" The broad teaching of Afroyim and Schneider is that once American citizenship has been recognized or conferred, Congress may not remove the status; it is for the citizen to abandon his citizenship voluntarily.

 Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is granted: defendant's cross-motion is denied.


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