November 18, 2007

Family Guy Just Lost Its Law Points

by PG

In fairness to creator Seth MacFarlane, tonight's episode of Family Guy was made and broadcast without his participation or approval, as he's part of the writer's strike. Perhaps the episode was just written sloppily and hastily by the scabs. Whatever the cause, the plot turned on a point of law that was utterly erroneous.

To recap the episode, at a Veteran's Day parade Peter begins to feel hyper-patriotic, and goes on a campaign against immigrants. His HR director at work agrees that she should check on everyone's legal status, so Peter asks his mother for his birth certificate to prove that he was born a U.S. citizen. She tells him that after realizing his biological father was a drunk Irishman, she went to Mexico for an abortion, but ended up giving birth to him there. Peter's mother was too embarrassed to let anyone know about this, so she never did the paperwork for his citizenship, and tells him that he therefore is not a citizen.

As probably every law student, recent graduate and immigration lawyer watching the episode yelled out, that's incorrect. The child of a married U.S. citizen who is born overseas is a citizen at birth, and so is the child of an unmarried U.S. citizen mother. No paperwork is necessary under 8 U.S.C. 1401(g). INS v. Nguyen examined whether the rule that the child of an unmarried U.S. citizen father did not have citizenship at birth was sex discrimination, and ruled in a 5-4 decision that it was not. (Bad Stevens! Bad!)

The only way the episode could have made the plot point work would be to state or imply one of the following: that Peter had been born prior to May 24, 1934, at which time only U.S. citizen fathers, but not mothers, could transmit citizenship to their children; that Peter had been born before December 24, 1952 and his mother had not resided in the U.S. for at least 10 years, at least five of which were after attaining the age of 16 years; or that Peter had been born before November 14, 1986 and his mother had not resided in the U.S. for at least 10 years, at least five of which were after the age of 14. This would work quite easily if Peter's mother had been under 21 at the time of his birth, at which point it would have been impossible for her to reside in the U.S. for five years after turning 16.

Had the episode stated that Peter at one point had citizenship but had lost it due to his overseas birth, this would work if he was born before October 10, 1978 and had spent less than two years in the U.S. between the ages of 14 and 28.

To see Family Guy screw up the law like this is disappointing after this bit.

November 18, 2007 11:54 PM | TrackBack

Your analysis is correct, but the implication is that Peter's mother is herself not a citizen.

Posted by: Tom T. at November 19, 2007 08:20 AM

Why would we think Peter's mother isn't a citizen? She has no accent that would imply she was born overseas to non-citizens, and I've never seen an episode that refers to her being a non-citizen. Besides, she never says, "I'm not a citizen," she only tells Peter that he isn't one.

Posted by: PG at November 19, 2007 01:35 PM

Because of what she said to Peter. He was born overseas, and as you say, if she were a citizen, he automatically would be too. Because he is not a US citizen, that means that she is not one either. That's the only way to reconcile her statement with the applicable law.

Note that I'm not saying that she is an illegal immigrant; she may be a lawful permanent resident.

Posted by: Tom T. at November 19, 2007 03:42 PM

But what I'm saying is that whoever wrote the episode made a mistake about the law. You're right that the only way to reconcile her statement with the applicable law is to assume that she's not a citizen -- but there is no reason to assume that if it's quite likely that the writer got the law wrong.

Posted by: PG at November 19, 2007 03:56 PM

Oh, absolutely. I'm just playing along with what's written.

Posted by: Tom T. at November 19, 2007 05:46 PM

Oh my God. You guys are fucking stupid. It's a TV show. Who cares if his mother was a citizen or not? Just watch the fucking show. Dip shits.

Posted by: Mike at November 21, 2007 08:57 PM

It's family guy not some educational television program to provide accurate information of U.S. laws; so get over it.

Posted by: Wally at January 14, 2008 03:10 PM

I'm guessing by their lack of interest in law that both Mike and Wally found this post through a list of the "goofs" in the episode. I'm not clear on why a legal goof is somehow more nitpicky than any other kind, except perhaps that one wouldn't catch it without specialized knowledge.

Posted by: PG at January 14, 2008 10:18 PM
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