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ADVANCING JUSTICE-ATLANTA, NIPNLG AND THE SPLC ISSUE STATEMENT UPON FILING BRIEF WITH THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS CHALLENGING SEXIST AND RACIST IMMIGRATION LAW CAUSING WRONGFUL DEPORTATION AND DENYING DUE PROCESS

WASHINGTON — Today, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta (Advancing Justice-Atlanta), the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed an appeal on behalf of Kelvin Silva, a 45-year-old father and North Carolina resident who was deported on Feb. 15 to the Dominican Republic after growing up and living in the U.S. since he was 11 years old. When Mr. Silva was a child, his father, who was a U.S. citizen, tragically and unexpectedly died. Mr. Silva is now himself a father and grandfather of U.S. citizens who have now been torn from his life because of his deportation — which never should have happened in the first place.

Under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (CCA), a noncitizen child who comes to the U.S. to live with their naturalized U.S.-citizen parent automatically becomes a U.S. citizen, as well. But Mr. Silva turned 18 before the CCA took effect, meaning he was subject to the discriminatory former law — 8 U.S.C. § 1432(a)(3) — which prevented U.S. citizen fathers (but not U.S. citizen mothers) from passing their citizenship to foreign-born, non-marital children. In short, U.S. citizen fathers were discriminated against by the unfair exclusion of U.S. citizenship for their children born “out of wedlock.” The law is based on an arcane immigration policy called the Guyer Rule, a gender and race-discriminatory policy that disproportionately restricted how non-white parents could secure citizenship for their children. 

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported Mr. Silva to a nation he doesn’t know because of this discriminatory, now-repealed law that stopped Mr. Silva from becoming a U.S. citizen simply because his parents never married. If the current law applied to Mr. Silva, he would be eligible to become a U.S. citizen, and he would presently be reunited with his family.

Laws designed to disadvantage children born “out of wedlock” have historically been used in our nation to deny rights to people from non-European cultures, and particularly Black and Brown people. As the brief filed by Mr. Silva’s attorneys details, the Guyer Rule is unconstitutional because it discriminates based on gender, has a racially discriminatory purpose, and has a disproportionate impact on immigrants of color — particularly Black immigrants like Mr. Silva.

Mr. Silva asks the Court to rectify the harm done by the Guyer Rule by extending him full U.S. citizenship. By doing so, the Court would take one small but crucial step toward undoing the inequities, including the systemic racism, that plague this nation’s immigration laws. 

The following statements are provided by:

Meredyth Yoon, litigation director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta:

“The goal of a nation’s citizenship laws should be to keep families together, not tear them apart. As Congress implicitly recognized by passing the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, a parent’s marital status has nothing to do with the bond they have with their child. Racist, sexist tropes about unmarried fathers should have no bearing on who becomes a citizen. It is time for the racist, sexist and unfair Guyer Rule to come to an end once and for all.” 

Joseph Meyers, staff attorney for the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild:

“The law denying Mr. Silva citizenship is based on the outdated stereotype that mothers have closer bonds with their children than fathers. This law is plainly unconstitutional and was rightfully repealed more than 20 years ago. But Mr. Silva’s recent deportation demonstrates its ongoing discriminatory impact. Mr. Silva should be home with his family, not alone in a country he hasn’t seen since he was 11 years old.”

Bacardi Jackson, interim deputy legal director for Children’s Rights for the SPLC and the SPLC Action Fund

“The ripping away of the families and lives of people who legally came to the U.S. as children simply because their parents were unmarried is an antiquated and immoral act of which all of us should be deeply ashamed. Such a cruel and unjust punishment for the crime of being born outside of European norms is all the more despicable for its uneven effect on Black and Brown families. Mr. Silva should be immediately returned to his family in the U.S. and lawmakers should rectify this remnant of our racist and sexist past with haste.”

Peter Isbister, senior lead attorney for the Immigrant Justice Project for the SPLC and the SPLC Action Fund

“The SPLC is proud to represent Mr. Silva in this groundbreaking litigation. Throughout his battle in the immigration court system, and now the federal court, Mr. Silva has shown unwavering commitment and inspiring resilience in the face of this sexist and racist law. The Guyer Rule is yet another part of the U.S. immigration system that unfairly targets Black and Brown people. The SPLC stands with Mr. Silva and all immigrants as we fight to make our immigration laws more just, more humane, and more true to the unfulfilled promise of equity of this country.”

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BACKGROUND: 

 Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the civil rights of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI) and other marginalized communities in Georgia and the Southeast.

The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild is a national non-profit organization that provides technical assistance and support to community-based immigrant organizations, legal practitioners, and all advocates seeking and working to advance the rights of noncitizens. NIPNLG utilizes impact litigation, advocacy, and public education to pursue its mission. Follow NIPNLG on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. 

The SPLC Action Fund is a catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements, and advance the human rights of all people. The SPLC Action Fund is the 501(c)4 affiliate organization to the Southern Poverty Law Center.