Thursday, May 16th, 2019

Second Circuit: general statute not enough to prove acquired citizenship

Finding valid defenses to illegal reentry charges tends to be challenging. Today, the Second Circuit issued a lengthy summary order in United States v. Lewis that, unfortunately, won’t make it any easier.

Here’s what happened: Mr. Lewis was charged with illegally reentering the United States. The defense planned to argue that Mr. Lewis, who was born in Guyana, was actually a United States citizen because he had acquired citizenship from his father automatically at birth. His father and mother were unmarried, but a Guyanese law “legitimated” all children in Guyana born out of wedlock.

The question was: did this Guyanese law establish “legitimate paternity” for Mr. Lewis? The trial judge said no, prohibited the defense, and instructed the jury that, as a matter of law, Mr. Lewis had not established that he acquired United States citizenship. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Lewis was convicted. He was sentenced to 63 months of imprisonment.

Today, the Second Circuit affirmed, explaining that “paternity” is not “established by legitimation” without a “formal legitimation process,” even if there is a general legitimation statute. (As a side note: The summary order notes that prior case law did not directly resolve the issue, so it’s not clear why the Circuit didn’t publish the decision). If you have this kind of issue, check out the decision. It lays out the different ways a child can acquire citizenship – be warned, they’re complicated!

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