Judgments and interpretations of the U.S. Supreme Court have been crucially important in the development of immigration law, including issues such as the constitutional powers of Congress, the legal rights of resident noncitizens, and the rules for deportation proceedings.
Immigration law is primarily a function of statutes and executive regulations. Armed with its established power of judicial review, the Supreme Court makes binding rulings on both the meanings and constitutionality of such statutes and regulations. Although the Constitution does not directly mention either immigration or the rights of aliens, it delegates to Congress the powers to regulate “commerce with foreign nations” and to establish a “uniform rule of naturalization.” Another relevant provision is the supremacy clause, which recognizes that federal statutes and treaties are equally part of the “supreme law of the land,” so long as they are not in conflict with the Constitution. Combining these provisions with legal traditions, the Supreme Court held in
Based on this “plenary power doctrine,” the Supreme Court has recognized that foreigners seeking to enter the United States have almost no constitutional rights that Congress must respect. Noncitizens legally residing in the country, however, are entitled to at least some of the legal rights that are enjoyed by citizens. In deportation proceedings, the federal government is bound by the
Immigration laws and regulations, by their nature, raise delicate questions concerning federalism–that is, the sharing of powers between the national government and the states. Before the 1880’s, the national government did little to regulate immigration. The coastal states with large ports, therefore, established institutions and procedures for the admission of foreigners. Although state governments tended to be liberal in their admission policies, they attempted to restrict the number of persons who were indigent, diseased, or mentally disabled.
In order to help finance these needy immigrants, New York and a few other
Slightly more than a decade later, the Supreme Court essentially reversed the Miln decision in the
The dismantling of state regulatory agencies took place at the same time when the “new immigration” from Europe was beginning. In response, in 1882 Congress enacted its first major immigration law, which imposed a
Between 1882 and 1902, Congress enacted a
The rights guaranteed under the
The Supreme Court clarified this issue in
Under Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Supreme Court began one of its most activist periods. Members of the court during the late 1960’s included (clockwise from upper left) Abe Fortas, Potter Stewart, Byron R. White, Thurgood Marshall, William J. Brennan, Jr., William O. Douglas, Warren, Hugo L. Black, and John Marshall Harlan II.
The Supreme Court, nevertheless, has sometimes authorized significant limitations on the rights of immigrants as a class. In the case of
After World War II, the Supreme Court began developing different standards of review for examining governmental classifications that are challenged as violating persons’ rights to equal protection. The Court gradually arrived at three main standards: ordinary scrutiny, strict scrutiny, and intermediate scrutiny. In
During the early 1970’s, the Supreme Court explicitly applied strict scrutiny to governmental regulations that discriminated against aliens in public benefits and employment opportunities. The landmark decision was
A few years later, however, in
In the case of
In the controversial 5-4 ruling in
The Supreme Court has rarely overturned the procedures used in the deportation of persons illegally residing in the country. The case of
In 1996, Congress enacted the
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee decision failed to clarify whether federal courts might have jurisdiction for habeas corpus relief in some other instances of deportation orders. In
Aleinikoff, Thomas, et al. Immigration and Citizenship: Process and Policy. 6th ed. St. Paul, Minn.: West Group, 2008. Comprehensive resource with good summaries and readable discussions of major laws and court decisions. Bosniak, Linda. The Citizen and the Alien: Dilemmas of Contemporary Membership. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006. Addresses the complex issues of alienage law and the sociological aspects of outsider status. Epstein, Lee, and Thomas Walker. Constitutional Law for a Changing America. 6th ed. 2 vols. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2006-2007. Readable and interesting textbook written primarily for undergraduate students, with one volume devoted to constitutional rights and the other volume discussing the institutional powers of the government. Hull, Elizabeth. Without Justice for All: The Constitutional Rights of Aliens. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985. Critical examination of the limited constitutional rights of resident noncitizens, temporary visitors, and undocumented aliens. Hyung-chan, Kim, ed. Asian Americans and the Supreme Court: A Documentary History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992. Critiques of major decisions relating to the admissions, civil rights, and deportations of Asian Americans during the last 150 years. Neuman, Gerald L. Strangers to the Constitution: Immigration, Borders, and Fundamental Law. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996. Dependable study of the controversies, laws, and court decisions concerning the rights of aliens and their children from the debates of 1798 until the late twentieth century. Salyer, Lucy. Laws as Harsh as Tigers: Chinese Immigrants and the Shaping of Modern Immigration Law. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995. Interesting account of the social and legal restrictions on Chinese immigration to the United States from 1891 until 1924.