Unwed, caring fathers should count as much as mothers

Posted: Thursday, June 14, 2001

The following editorial appeared in Wednesday's Miami Herald:

Just in time for Father's Day, the Supreme Court has said that unwed fathers who bring up their offspring don't count as much as mothers. The decision weakens the court's trend toward holding gender-specific laws to high levels of scrutiny, and it bolsters laws that put many people in limbo.

The court's ruling should be a yet-another invitation for Congress to clarify immigration law. On every point used by the five-justice majority, the case at hand points to the need for a law based on relationships, not stereotypes.

Joseph Boulais cared for his baby, Tuan Anh Nguyen, and brought him to the United States in 1975 from Vietnam when the boy was 6. Then at age 23, Nguyen was convicted of sexual assault and, after he served his sentence, the government moved to deport him. His father tried to formalize his paternity to give his son citizenship.

The Supreme Court majority said his actions were too late. It upheld a provision of immigration law that requires American fathers of children born to foreign mothers abroad to acknowledge paternity formally before the child turns 18. Yet American citizenship passes nearly automatically from American mothers in similar circumstances.

The five justices said that the law was based on the clear biological relationship between mother and child, the likelihood that mother and child will develop a relationship and the need for an "easily administrated scheme" to determine relationships before the child turns 18.

The first point is made moot by the availability of DNA testing. The second point presumes that mothers, not fathers, have a closer relationship, which clearly isn't the case here. And the third point goes toward merely making government's job easier.

So why not expel someone convicted of a crime? Like many other countries, Vietnam refuses to take back deported citizens. So the United States has a growing population in indefinite detention.

That is not right.

Congress now has been told, again, that the courts will not relieve it of the obligation to make necessary if politically unpopular changes in immigration laws.

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