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Wong Kim Ark
At the heart of the coming battle over the constitutional right to U.S. citizenship for everyone born in this country is how the 14th Amendment, adopted in 1868, is interpreted. And at the heart of that interpretation is a 112-year-old Supreme Court decision, based on a lawsuit filed by a young man from San Francisco named Wong Kim Ark.
Wong is relatively little known to history. But his case, decided in 1898, affirmed the right to citizenship for the children of Chinese immigrants, at time barred from naturalizing - and set a precedent for all children of immigrants, regardless of their parents' status.
Wong was in his early twenties, a cook by trade, when he crossed paths with immigration officials. He was born in 1873 and raised in San Francisco by his Chinese immigrant parents who, eight years after the passage of the discriminatory Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, engaged in what today might be called attrition through enforcement: After 20 years in the United States, they packed their bags, boarded a westbound steamship and moved back to China.