U.S. Supreme Court Rulings on Immigration

An annotated list of important immigration-related U.S. court decisions.

U.S. Supreme Court Rulings on Immigration


Osborn v. Bank of the United States[c]Osborn v. Bank of the United States

22 U.S. 738

Decision in which Chief Justice Marshall, JohnJohn Marshall ruled there is no legal difference between citizenship by birth and citizenship by naturalization.


New York v. Miln*[c]New York v. Miln

38 U.S. 102

Authorized the states to regulate immigrants entering through state ports, based on the doctrine of state police power. Twelve years later, however, the Court would reverse this ruling in the Passenger Cases.


License Cases[c]License Cases

46 U.S. 504

Also known as: Thurlow v. Massachusetts; Fletcher v. Rhode Island

Held that Congress’s broad authority to regulate foreign and interstate commerce was limited by the police powers of the individual states.


Passenger Cases*[c]Passenger Cases

48 U.S. 283

Also known as: Norris v. Boston; Smith v. Turner

Held that the individual states did not have constitutional authority to tax immigrants entering the country, overturning New York v. Miln (1837).


Cooley v. Port of Pennsylvania[c]Cooley v. Port of Pennsylvania

53 U.S. 299

Established the pragmatic compromise called “selective exclusiveness,” which allowed the states to regulate commerce in local matters, while prohibiting state regulations that interfered with aspects requiring national uniformity.


Chy Lung v. Freeman*[c]Chy Lung v. Freeman

92 U.S. 275

Held that fees and restrictions by the states on aliens entering the country were unconstitutionally unless absolutely necessary and reasonable.


Henderson v. Mayor of the City of New York*[c]Henderson v. Mayor of the City of New York

92 U.S. 259

Recognized that the exclusive power of Congress to regulate international commerce included the landing of passengers, thereby striking down state immigration laws interfering with national uniformity.


Chew Heong v. United States*[c]Chew Heong v. United States

112 U.S. 536

This first of the Chinese exclusion cases affirmed that a Chinese citizen had the benefit of rights promised in treaties with China that had not been clearly and explicitly repealed by Congress.


Head Money Cases*[c]Head Money Cases

112 U.S. 580

Upheld a federal tax on immigrants as “a mere incident of the regulation of commerce,” thereby helping to consolidate federal control over immigration.


Yick Wo v. Hopkins*[c]Yick Wo v. Hopkins

118 U.S. 356

First case in which the Court held that a racially neutral law applied in a discriminatory manner violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause.


Chae Chan Ping v. United States*[c]Chae Chan Ping v. United States

130 U.S. 581

Also known as: Chinese Exclusion Case

Recognized the sovereign power of Congress to exclude any group from immigration and to abrogate or modify treaties.


Nishimura Ekiu v. United States*[c]Nishimura Ekiu v. United States

142 U.S. 651

Upheld enforcement of the [a]Immigration Act of 1891;and Supreme Court, U.S.[Supreme Court, U.S.]Immigration Act of 1891, which authorized local immigration officials to exclude categories of undesirable immigrants without any right of appeal.


Fong Yue Ting v. United States*[c]Fong Yue Ting v. United States

149 U.S. 698

Upheld the [a]Geary Act of 1892;and Supreme Court, U.S.[Supreme Court, U.S.]Geary Act of 1892, which provided Congress with almost unlimited discretion to establish rules for alien registration and deportation.


Lem Moon Sing v. United States*[c]Lem Moon Sing v. United States

158 U.S. 538

Upheld a federal law prohibiting district courts from reviewing habeas corpus petitions by alien immigrants, thereby empowering immigration officials to exclude or deport without any judicial review.


Wong Wing v. United States*[c]Wong Wing v. United States

163 U.S. 228

Prohibited criminal punishment of noncitizens without a jury trial and other constitutional rights, but reaffirmed the authority of Congress to authorize their deportation without trials.


United States v. Wong Kim Ark*[c]United States v. Wong Kim Ark[c]Wong Kim Ark, United States v.

169 U.S. 649

Ruled that under the Fourteenth Amendment’s citizenship clause any person born on American soil is a U.S. citizen, even when parents are illegal aliens and ineligible for citizenship.


Chin Bak Kan v. United States*[c]Chin Bak Kan v. United States

186 U.S. 193

Authorized vigorous enforcement of the [a]Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882;and Supreme Court, U.S.[Supreme Court, U.S.]Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and its amendments and disregarded minor procedural defects in the deportation of persons who entered the country illegally.


Turner v. Williams[c]Turner v. Williams

194 U.S. 279

Upheld the expulsion of an immigrant because of his advocacy of anarchism, thereby approving the Immigration Act of 1903, which excluded aliens simply because of their political beliefs.


United States v. Ju Toy*[c]United States v. Ju Toy

198 U.S. 253[c]Ju Toy, United States v.

Authorized officials of the executive branch to make the final determination of a resident Chinese’s claim to citizenship without any review by the federal courts.


Patsone v. Pennsylvania[c]Patsone v. Pennsylvania

232 U.S. 138

Upheld a state law that prohibited noncitizens from hunting wild game in the state.


Truax v. Raich*[c]Truax v. Raich

239 U.S. 33

Struck down a state law that required eighty percent of workers in most businesses to be citizens, based on the equal right of noncitizens to earn a livelihood in common occupations.


Ozawa v. United States*[c]Ozawa v. United States

260 U.S. 178

Defined the word “white” in U.S. naturalization law as meaning a person of European racial ancestry–thus disqualifying all persons of Asian ancestry from naturalization.


Terrace v. Thompson*[c]Terrace v. Thompson

263 U.S. 197

Upheld the validity of a state law that prohibited noncitizens from owning or leasing land for the purpose of agriculture.


United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind*[c]United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind[c]Bhagat Singh Thind, United States v.

261 U.S. 204

Held that the word “white” in immigration law did not refer to light-skinned immigrants from India, thus making them ineligible for naturalized citizenship.


Asakura v. City of Seattle*[c]Asakura v. City of Seattle

265 U.S. 332

Gave relatively liberal interpretations to foreign treaties that guaranteed the civil rights of particular aliens in the United States.


Chang Chan v. Nagle*[c]Chang Chan v. Nagle

268 U.S. 346

Upheld a law disallowing some foreign wives of U.S. citizens from entering the country.


Cheung Sum Shee v. Nagle*[c]Cheung Sum Shee v. Nagle

268 U.S. 336

Held that treaties with foreign countries guaranteeing rights for their citizens were legally binding unless they had clearly and explicitly been abrogated by Congress.


Jordan v. Tashiro*[c]Jordan v. Tashiro

278 U.S. 123

Held that treaties with Japan guaranteed the right of Japanese citizens to operate trading businesses in the United States–overruling limited parts of the California Land Law.


United States v. Macintosh[c]United States v. MacIntosh[c]MacIntosh, United States v.

283 U.S. 605

Upheld a law prohibiting naturalization for persons not promising to bear arms in U.S. wars and recognized the broad discretion of Congress to establish such restrictions.


Schneiderman v. United States[c]Schneiderman v. United States

320 U.S. 118

Held that Citizenship;loss ofdenaturalization requires “clear, unequivocal, and convincing” evidence of disloyalty or fraud in the application for citizenship.


Korematsu v. United States[c]Korematsu v. United States

323 U.S. 214

Upheld the emergency relocation of persons of Japanese ancestry following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, but declared that racial classifications were “inherently suspect” and must be judged by the “most rigid scrutiny.”


Knauer v. United States[c]Knauer v. United States

328 U.S. 654

Upheld a denaturalization order for an immigrant from Germany who had intended to promote Nazism when applying for citizenship and had taken a false oath of allegiance.


Ludecke v. Watkins[c]Ludecke v. Watkins

335 U.S. 160

Recognized that an alien resident could not be deported without a deportation proceeding, which included reasonable notice, a fair hearing, and an order based on adequate evidence.


Oyama v. California*[c]Oyama v. California

332 U.S. 633

Overturned the portions of the California Alien Land Laws that discriminated against Asian Americans who were citizens by birth, but without any affect on Asian immigrants.


United States ex rel. Knauff v. Shaughnessy[c]United States ex rel. Knauff v. Shaughnessy

338 U.S. 537

Upheld the government’s inherent authority to disallow the return of an alien of permanent resident status who had lived abroad for nineteen months.


Wong Yang Sung v. McGrath[c]Wong Yang Sung v. McGrath

339 U.S. 33

Reaffirmed the constitutional right of aliens to a fair hearing before deportation, except for those who had recently entered the country illegally.


Carlson v. Landon[c]Carlson v. Landon

342 U.S. 524

Upheld the detaining of five aliens awaiting determination of deportability for Communist membership, without any right of judicial review.


Harisiades v. Shaughnessy[c]Harisiades v. Shaughnessy

342 U.S. 580

Upheld the constitutionality of the [a]Alien Registration Act of 1942Alien Registration Act of 1942, which authorized the deportation of legally resident aliens holding membership in the Communist PartyCommunist Party.


Galvan v. Press*[c]Galvan v. Press

347 U.S. 522

Upheld the deportation of a resident alien who had belonged to the Communist PartyCommunist Party after entry, despite a lack of evidence that he had been aware of the party’s advocacy of violent revolution.


Schneider v. Rusk[c]Schneider v. Rusk

377 U.S. 163

Struck down the provision in federal law that had revoked the citizenship of naturalized citizens who returned to their country of origin for three years.


Afroyim v. Rusk*[c]Afroyim v. Rusk

387 U.S. 253

Established that U.S. citizenship may not be revoked involuntarily for actions such as voting in a foreign country.


Boutilier v. Immigration and Naturalization Service*[c]Boutilier v. Immigration and Naturalization Service

387 U.S. 118

Based on congressional intent and psychiatric ideas of the time, the Supreme Court upheld the government’s policy of classifying gays and lesbians as ineligible for immigration.


Graham v. Richardson*[c]Graham v. Richardson

403 U.S. 365

Landmark decision holding that alienage is a suspect classification and that states may not deny welfare benefits to alien residents.


In Re Griffiths[c]In Re Griffiths

413 U.S. 717

Permitted the states to prohibit resident aliens from practicing law.


Matthews v. Dias[c]Matthews v. Dias

426 U.S. 67

Upheld the constitutionality of a provision in the [a]Social Security Act of 1935Social Security Act of 1935 that denied supplementary Medicare insurance to aliens unless they had been permanent residents for five years.


Sugarman v. Dougall[c]Sugarman v. Dougall

413 U.S. 634

Recognized that aliens may be excluded from elective positions and from nonelective positions that involve the formation or execution of public policy–a major exception to Graham v. Richardson (1971).


Lau v. Nichols*[c]Lau v. Nichols

414 U.S. 563

Required school districts to provide compensatory training for students with limited English proficiency, but allowed school districts to decide the methods of instruction.


United States v. Brignoni-Ponce[c]United States v. Brignoni-Ponce[c]Brignoni-Ponce, United States v.[Brignoni Ponce, United States v.]

422 U.S. 873

Required that before “roving patrols” near the Mexican border stop vehicles to question occupants, their officers must have reasonable grounds to think that the vehicles contain passengers who are in the country illegally.


Hampton v. Mow Sun Wong*[c]Hampton v. Mow Sun Wong

426 U.S. 88

Held that federal agencies may not refuse to employ noncitizens except when the Congress expressly establishes the policy based on an overriding national interest.


Castaneda v. Partida[c]Castaneda v. Partida

430 U.S. 482

Concluded that there was sufficient evidence to demonstrate unconstitutional racial discrimination in jury selections by Texas border counties.


Fiallo v. Bell[c]Fiallo v. Bell

430 U.S. 787

Upheld gender discrimination in the [a]Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952;and Supreme Court, U.S.[Supreme Court, U.S.]Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 that applied to foreign-born children whose parents were unmarried and only one of whom was a U.S. citizen.


Foley v. Connelie*[c]Foley v. Connelie

435 U.S. 291

Upheld a New York law prohibiting noncitizens from serving as police officers and undertaking other kinds of work involving discretion in administering public policy.


Ambach v. Norwick[c]Ambach v. Norwick

441 U.S. 68

Upheld a New York State law that disallowed aliens who were eligible for citizenship from teaching in the public schools.


Vance v. Terrazas

444 U.S. 252

Held that a person’s citizenship status can be revoked when the government demonstrates, by a preponderance of evidence, that the person intended to surrender the status.


Fedorenko v. United States*[c]Fedorenko v. United States

449 U.S. 490

Allowed the revocation of naturalized citizenship because a person had intentionally provided false information to enter the country and apply for naturalization.


Cabell v. Chavez Salido[c]Cabell v. Chavez Salido

454 U.S. 432

Expanding Foley v. Connelie (1978), the Court allowed California to require citizenship for “peace officers” who exercise discretion as part of their duties.


Plyler v. Doe*[c]Plyler v. Doe

457 U.S. 202

Held that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited states from denying a public education to any child residing in the country illegally.


Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chadha*[c]Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chadha

462 U.S. 919

Prohibited legislation authorizing one house of Congress to override a decision made by the executive branch.


Bernal v. Fainter*[c]Bernal v. Fainter

467 U.S. 216

Struck down a state law prohibiting aliens from working as notary publics and held that laws discriminating against resident aliens must be justified by compelling governmental interests.


Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Lopez-Mendoza*[c]Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Lopez-Mendoza

468 U.S. 1032

Upheld deportation proceedings without full Fourth Amendment rights, thereby allowing immigration officials to introduce some improperly acquired evidence in the proceedings.


Sale v. Haitian Centers Council*[c]Sale v. Haitian Centers Council

509 U.S. 155

Allowed the government to capture fleeing refugees before they reached the shores of the United States and to return them to Haiti, even if the refugees faced political persecution.


Miller v. Albright[c]Miller v. Albright

523 U.S. 420

Upheld a federal law making acquisition of citizenship more difficult for a foreign-born, illegitimate child when the father is a U.S. citizen than when the mother is a citizen.


Reno v. American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee*[c]Reno v. American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

525 U.S. 471

Upheld a federal statute that severely restricted the rights of alien residents to challenge deportation orders in federal court, even in cases with an alleged violation of constitutional rights.


Bond v. United States[c]Bond v. United States

529 U.S. 334

Held that a Border Patrol agent in Texas violated the Fourth Amendment when he physically manipulated a bus passenger’s bag, based on the owner’s reasonable expectation of privacy.


Calcano-Martinez v. Immigration and Naturalization Service[c]Calcano-Martinez v. Immigration and Naturalization Service[Calcano Martinez v. Immigration and Naturalization Service]

533 U.S. 348

Held that federal circuit courts did not have jurisdiction to review cases of permanent residents subject to removal, but that petitioners may seek relief in district courts.


Immigration and Naturalization Service v. St. Cyr*[c]Immigration and Naturalization Service v. St. Cyr

533 U.S. 289

Held that immigration law had not removed the jurisdiction of federal courts to review habeas corpus petitions from resident aliens deportable because of felony convictions.


Nguyen v. Immigration and Naturalization Service*[c]Nguyen v. Immigration and Naturalization Service

533 U.S. 53

Reaffirmed the constitutionality of federal gender-based preferences in the citizenship rights of illegitimate, foreign-born children who have one parent who is a U.S. citizen.


Zadvydas v. Davis*[c]Zadvydas v. Davis

533 U.S. 678

Restricted the length of time for detaining noncitizens awaiting deportation, except when the government can demonstrate aggravating circumstances.


Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board[c]Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board

535 U.S. 137

Held that the [a]Immigration Reform Act of 1986Immigration Reform Act of 1986 did not authorize the awarding of back pay to an undocumented immigrant who had illegally worked in the country.


Fernandez-Vargas v. Gonzales[c]Fernandez-Vargas v. Gonzales[Fernandez Vargas v. Gonzales]

548 U.S. 30

Held that the immigration law of 1996 did not apply retroactively to an alien who had illegally reentered the country before 1996.


Lopez v. Gonzales

549 U.S. 47

Disallowed removal proceedings against a legally permanent resident because of a felony conviction in state court, when the offense is only a misdemeanor under federal law.


Dada v. Mukasey*[c]Dada v. Mukasey

551 U.S.

A complex interpretation of immigration law, holding that an alien has the right to withdraw a motion of voluntary departure and to present new arguments for remaining in the U.S.


Flores-Figueroa v. United States[c]Flores-Figueroa v. United States[Flores Figueroa v. United States]

556 U.S.

Held that to prosecute an illegal immigrant for identity theft felony, prosecutors must show that the user knew that the false social security number belonged to another person.

Afroyim v. Rusk

Asakura v. City of Seattle

Bernal v. Fainter

Boutilier v. Immigration and Naturalization Service

Chae Chan Ping v. United States

Chang Chan v. Nagle

Cheung Sum Shee v. Nagle

Chew Heong v. United States

Chin Bak Kan v. United States

Chinese Exclusion Cases

Chy Lung v. Freeman

Dada v. Mukasey

Fedorenko v. United States

Foley v. Connelie

Fong Yue Ting v. United States

Galvan v. Press

Graham v. Richardson

Hampton v. Mow Sun Wong

Head Money Cases

Henderson v. Mayor of the City of New York

Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chadha

Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Lopez-Mendoza

Immigration and Naturalization Service v. St. Cyr

Jordan v. Tashiro

Lau v. Nichols

Lem Moon Sing v. United States

New York v. Miln

Nguyen v. Immigration and Naturalization Service

Nishimura Ekiu v. United States

Oyama v. California

Ozawa v. United States

Passenger Cases

Plyler v. Doe

Reno v. American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

Sale v. Haitian Centers Council

Sei Fujii v. State of California

Terrace v. Thompson

United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind

United States v. Ju Toy

United States v. Wong Kim Ark

Wong Wing v. United States

Yick Wo v. Hopkins

Zadvydas v. Davis