Sunday, January 23, 2011

WCL students will present an oral argument against the DOJ

On January 25, the UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic will present an oral argument against the Department of Justice in the Fourth Circuit on behalf of David Johnson, a United States citizen who is facing deportation.  Mr. Johnson has been wrongfully held in immigration detention for more than two years while the U.S. government has tried to deport him to Jamaica, a country Mr. Johnson has not seen for over three decades. 

Mr. Johnson derived U.S. citizenship as a child when his father became a naturalized U.S. citizen.  When the government tried to deport Mr. Johnson in 1998, an immigration judge reviewed documentary evidence, decided that Mr. Johnson was a citizen, and terminated the removal proceedings.  This has not stopped the government from trying yet again to litigate the issue of Mr. Johnson’s citizenship.

What is at stake in this case is whether an individual such as Mr. Johnson is entitled to repose—a concept protected by the legal doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel—or whether the government can litigate the same issue repeatedly, perhaps ceaselessly until it obtains the result it desires.  In the past eighteen years, the U.S. government has denied Mr. Johnson repose by subjecting him to three sets of removal proceedings. 

Mr. Johnson’s case also raises important questions dealing with the Equal Protection Clause.  According to the government’s interpretation of the relevant statute, Mr. Johnson’s parents must have been married and subsequently legally separated in order for him to derive U.S. citizenship.  The government’s interpretation of this statute effectively penalizes a child for the actions of his parents, namely his parents’ failure to marry.  A constitutional reading of the statute would not discriminate between the child of parents who are married and parents who are unwed.  In fact, Congress deleted the language requiring a legal separation in a revised version of the statute, but these revisions do not apply retroactively.

Angad Singh, a third-year law student, will be arguing with the assistance of third and second-year law students, Brenda L. Robles and Rachel Zoghlin.  The oral argument is scheduled for 9:30 a.m.  For more information on the case, please contact the UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic at unrowclinic@american.edu.

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