Long-term BIA Pro Bono Project case ends with a victory

CLINIC’s BIA Pro Bono Appeals Project launched in 2001. In its 19+ years of operation, the Project has reviewed more than 7,200 cases, pairing attorneys and law school clinics with vulnerable asylum seekers and long-time lawful permanent residents. The Project accepted Jose Tineo’s case and referred it to attorney Nick Curcio in 2013. After seven years, the case ultimately reached the Third Circuit as Tineo v. Att’y Gen., 937 F.3d 200 (3d Cir. 2019). The proceedings finally ended in 2020 when the government decided not to ask the Supreme Court for a review.

Jose was born in the Dominican Republic to unmarried parents. His mother passed away when he was young, and he was primarily raised by his father’s sister. Before Jose turned 18, his father immigrated to the United States and obtained citizenship. If his parents had been married, he would have automatically derived his father’s citizenship. However, the rules for unwed parents require a father to “legitimate” his child in order for that child to derive citizenship. Legitimation is different from both parental acknowledgement and custody. Under Dominican and New York law, Jose’s father could only legitimate his son — and subsequently transmit his U.S. citizenship — by marrying his son’s mother, who had passed away years before.

Jose came to the United States in 1985 to live with his father as a permanent resident. He built a life in the United States, becoming a father himself. He even obtained a passport in 2001 to be able to return to the Dominican Republic to visit his family. After a run in with the law, he was placed in removal proceedings. He was detained for 19 months and had to represent himself until he was paired with Curcio.

Jose’s case was the first to follow successfully on the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Sessions v. Morales-Santana. In the Morales-Santana case, the Court struck down a citizenship statute that imposed different requirements for fathers to pass on their citizenship compared to mothers. In Jose’s case, the Third Circuit found, in a 2-1 decision, that under the unique circumstances of this case, Jose’s father was deprived of the equal protection of the laws. Jose is a United States citizen, the court declared, and has been since 1985. The government petitioned for rehearing, but the full Third Circuit declined to intervene. Ultimately, the government declined to ask the Supreme Court to review the case.

For the better part of the last decade, Jose’s life has been filled with uncertainty and stress. Now, he has obtained a passport for the first time since the removal proceedings began, giving him the freedom to stay connected with his family in both the Dominican Republic and the United States. Currently, Jose is expecting his first grandchild. While the pandemic has affected his initial travel plans, he is looking forward to seeing his daughter and meeting his grandchild soon.

The BIA Pro Bono Project provides the opportunity for attorneys and fully accredited representatives to fight for people like Jose who, otherwise, may have to represent themselves. If you would like to volunteer with the BIA Pro Bono Project, please fill out our volunteer form.