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Supreme Court deadlocks in peculiar case about US citizenship

A man born in Mexico and raised in America challenged a US law that makes it easier for an unwed mother to transmit US citizenship to her child born outside the US than for an unwed father. The Supreme Court deadlocked 4 to 4, so a lower court ruling upholding the law will stand.

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A Mexican national has lost his bid to block his deportation from the US by challenging the constitutionality of a 1940 immigration law that treats men and women differently.

Lawyers for Ruben Flores-Villar had attacked a statute that makes it easier for an unwed mother to transmit US citizenship to her child born outside the US than for an unwed father in the same position.

On Monday, the US Supreme Court announced that it had deadlocked 4 to 4 in the Flores-Villar case. The split was a result of Justice Elena Kagan’s recusal from consideration in the case, leaving the court with only eight members.

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As a result of the deadlock, the high court did not render an opinion. The action lets stand an earlier decision by a federal appeals court upholding Mr. Flores-Villar’s conviction on immigration charges.

The case stems from the saga of Ruben Flores-Villar who was born in Mexico in 1974 to an unmarried Mexican mother and a US-citizen father. At two months old, the child was brought to the US and raised by his father and grandmother. He grew up in San Diego County but never applied to become a US citizen.

In 1997, Flores-Villar was convicted of marijuana smuggling and sentenced to two years in prison. After serving his sentence he was deported to Mexico. In the years that followed, he returned to the US and was deported again at least six times. In his most recent case, his lawyer challenged the deportation order by arguing that Flores-Villar, as the child of a US citizen, was, himself, a US citizen who could not be deported.

Immigration officials disagreed. At the time of Flores-Villar’s birth, his father was 16 years old. 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.

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