The federal government has exclusive power to regulate immigration, based on its authority over foreign affairs. The Immigration and Nationality Act provides the main framework for admitting, excluding, or removing foreign nationals. Executive officials have substantial discretion in enforcing the INA and developing immigration policies. However, federal courts sometimes hear immigration cases involving issues such as constitutional questions and statutory interpretation. Below is an outline of key cases in immigration law with links to the full text of virtually every case, provided free by Justia.
Citizenship generally extends to people born or naturalized in the U.S. Immigration law applies to people who do not have citizenship. Only in rare cases may citizenship be lost after it has been acquired.
Elk v. Wilkins 一 There are only two sources of citizenship: birth and naturalization. People not subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. at the time of birth cannot become so afterwards except by being naturalized.
U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark 一 The Fourteenth Amendment affirms the rule of citizenship by birth within the territory, in the allegiance, and under the protection of the U.S., including most children born here to resident foreign nationals.
Trop v. Dulles 一 Citizenship is not subject to the general powers of the national government, and therefore it cannot be divested in the exercise of those powers.
Afroyim v. Rusk 一 Congress has no power under the Constitution to divest a person of their U.S. citizenship, absent their voluntary renunciation of it.
Vance v. Terrazas 一 In establishing loss of citizenship, the government must prove an intent to surrender U.S. citizenship, rather than just the voluntary commission of an expatriating act, such as swearing allegiance to a foreign nation.
Fedorenko v. U.S. 一 There must be strict compliance with all the congressionally imposed prerequisites to the acquisition of citizenship. Failure to comply with any of these conditions renders the certificate of citizenship illegally procured, and naturalization that is unlawfully procured can be set aside.
The Plenary Power Doctrine
Although the Constitution does not specifically discuss immigration, this power falls within the exclusive authority of the federal government. In early immigration cases, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress has plenary power to regulate this area.
Chae Chan Ping v. U.S. 一 The power of Congress to exclude foreign nationals from the U.S. is an incident of sovereignty that cannot be surrendered by the treaty-making power. When a treaty and a federal law conflict, the more recent source of law controls.
Nishimura Ekiu v. U.S. 一 It is not within the province of the judiciary to order that foreigners who have never been naturalized, nor acquired any domicile or residence within the U.S., nor even been admitted into the U.S. pursuant to law, shall be permitted to enter in opposition to the constitutional and lawful measures of the legislative and executive branches of the national government.
Fong Yue Ting v. U.S. 一 An order of deportation is not a punishment for a crime, and this does not deprive a foreign national of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Deciding whether foreign nationals may be permitted to stay in the U.S. falls within the authority of the political departments of government, and courts cannot express opinions on the wisdom, policy, or justice of measures enacted by Congress in this area.
Constitutional Rights of Foreign Nationals
Foreign nationals who have been admitted to the U.S. have certain constitutional rights, such as due process and equal protection. However, Congress may have greater discretion than state and local governments in treating foreign nationals differently from citizens.
Yick Wo v. Hopkins 一 The Fourteenth Amendment extends to all persons within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. Thus, foreign nationals who have the right to temporarily or permanently reside in the U.S. are entitled to equal protection.
Wong Wing v. U.S. 一 All persons within the territory of the U.S. are entitled to the protections of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. Foreign nationals cannot be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor may they be held to answer for a “capital or other infamous crime” unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury.
Graham v. Richardson 一 State statutes that deny welfare benefits to resident foreign nationals, or to foreign nationals who have not resided in the U.S. for a specified number of years, violate the Equal Protection Clause and encroach on the exclusive federal power over the entrance and residence of foreign nationals.
Mathews v. Diaz 一 The fact that a federal law treats foreign nationals differently from citizens does not by itself imply that such disparate treatment is invidious. Congress has broad power over immigration and naturalization and regularly makes rules regarding foreign nationals that would be unacceptable if applied to citizens.
INS v. Lopez-Mendoza 一 Consistent with the civil nature of a deportation proceeding, various protections that apply in the context of a criminal trial do not apply in a deportation hearing. (This case involved the Fourth Amendment and the exclusionary rule.)
INS v. Delgado 一 Individual questioning of employees by INS agents concerning their citizenship did not amount to a detention or seizure under the Fourth Amendment.
Grounds for Admission and Deportation
The preference system for admission of foreign nationals has survived constitutional challenges. Congress also has unlimited authority to define classes of deportable foreign nationals. Some constitutional protections apply in deportation.
Fiallo v. Bell 一 Provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act are not unconstitutional for excluding the relationship between an illegitimate child and their natural father (as opposed to their natural mother) from the special preference status accorded by the INA to the child or parent of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.
Bugajewitz v. Adams 一 Deportation is not a punishment but instead a refusal by the government to harbor persons whom it does not want. The constitutional prohibition on ex post facto laws has no application to deportation.
AADC v. Reno 一 The values underlying the First Amendment require the full applicability of First Amendment rights to the deportation setting. Thus, deportation grounds must be judged by the same standard applied to other burdens on First Amendment rights.
Reno v. AADC 一 When a foreign national’s continuing presence in the U.S. violates immigration laws, the government does not offend the Constitution by deporting the foreign national for the additional reason that they are believed to be a member of an organization that supports terrorist activity. More generally, when deportation is sought because of an act committed by the foreign national, they are not being punished for that act but are merely being held to the terms under which they were admitted.
Trump v. Hawaii 一 The President has broad discretion to suspend the entry of foreign nationals into the U.S. By entrusting to the President the decisions of whether and when to suspend entry, whose entry to suspend, for how long, and on what conditions, Congress has vested the President with ample power to impose entry restrictions in addition to those elsewhere enumerated in the INA.
Congress can determine spousal status for immigration purposes. Meanwhile, courts have applied a specific test for determining whether a marriage is a sham to achieve admissibility.
Adams v. Howerton 一 In determining whether a marriage is recognized for immigration purposes, a court must decide whether the marriage is valid under state law and whether that state-approved marriage qualifies under the INA.
Bark v. INS 一 The key issue in determining whether a marriage is a sham marriage for immigration purposes is whether the spouses intended to establish a life together at the time of their marriage. While the duration of their separation is relevant to intent, it is not dispositive.
Criminal Convictions and Deportation
A foreign national who is convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude within five years of entering the U.S. is inadmissible and deportable. A foreign national convicted of an aggravated felony is deportable if their term of imprisonment was completed within the previous 15 years.
Goldeshtein v. INS 一 The question of whether a crime necessarily involves moral turpitude turns on whether evil intent is an essential element of the crime.
Wei Cong Mei v. Ashcroft 一 Aggravated fleeing from a police officer is a crime involving moral turpitude, since this involves deliberately engaging in seriously wrongful behavior by flouting lawful authority and endangering the officer and others.
Lopez v. Gonzales 一 Conduct that is a felony under state law but a misdemeanor under the federal Controlled Substances Act is not a felony punishable under the Controlled Substances Act for INA purposes.
Luna Torres v. Lynch 一 A state offense is an aggravated felony for immigration purposes when it has every element of a listed federal crime, except an element requiring a connection to interstate or foreign commerce.
Vartelas v. Holder 一 The impact of travel abroad on the permanent resident status of a foreign national with a criminal conviction is determined by the legal regime in force at the time of the conviction.
Padilla v. Kentucky 一 A criminal defense attorney must inform a non-citizen client whether their plea carries a risk of deportation.
Due Process in Immigration Proceedings
For lawfully admitted foreign nationals, deportation procedures must meet due process requirements. This means that a foreign national must receive notice and an opportunity to be heard. Requirements for admission procedures are much less demanding.
Yamataya v. Fisher 一 When a foreign national had notice, although not formal, of the investigation instituted for the purpose of ascertaining whether they were illegally in the country, the courts cannot interfere with the executive officers conducting it.
U.S. ex rel. Knauff v. Shaughnessy 一 Admission of foreign nationals to the U.S. is a privilege granted by the sovereign U.S. government and must be exercised in accordance with the procedure that the U.S. provides. It is not within the province of any court, unless expressly authorized by law, to review the determination of the political branch of the government to exclude a foreign national.
Kwong Hai Chew v. Colding 一 While it may be that a resident foreign national’s ultimate right to remain in the U.S. is subject to alteration by statute or authorized regulation because of a voyage undertaken by them to foreign ports, it does not follow that they are thereby deprived of their constitutional right to procedural due process. (In other words, a returning resident foreign national is entitled as a matter of due process to a hearing on the charges underlying any attempt to exclude them.)
Shaughnessy v. U.S. ex rel. Mezei 一 Whatever the procedure authorized by Congress is, it is due process as far as a foreign national denied entry is concerned when they are on the threshold of initial entry.
Landon v. Plasencia 一 The role of the judiciary is limited to determining whether the procedures used in excluding a returning lawful permanent resident meet the essential standard of fairness under the Due Process Clause. A court must not impose procedures that merely displace congressional choices of policy.
American Immigration Lawyers Ass’n v. Reno 一 Foreign nationals who are initial entrants have no due process rights with respect to their admission and thus cannot use the Fifth Amendment to guarantee certain procedures.
Morales-Izquierdo v. Ashcroft 一 Reinstatement procedures established by the Attorney General violated the INA when they provided for reinstatement without the right to a hearing before an immigration judge.
Foreign nationals in deportation proceedings may be detained to ensure that they appear for any hearings and leave the U.S. if a removal order is issued. Mandatory detention applies to deportation based on certain criminal grounds. An extended period of detention may raise constitutional concerns.
Demore v. Kim 一 Although the Fifth Amendment entitles foreign nationals to due process in deportation proceedings, detention during these proceedings is a constitutionally valid aspect of the process, even when detention is challenged on the basis that there has been no finding that a foreign national is unlikely to appear for their deportation proceedings.
Zadvydas v. Davis 一 The post-removal period detention statute implicitly limits the detention of a foreign national to a period reasonably necessary to bring about their removal from the U.S. and does not permit indefinite detention. After a presumptively reasonable six-month period, once a foreign national provides good reason to believe that there is no significant likelihood of removal in the reasonably foreseeable future, the government must provide evidence sufficient to rebut that showing.
Nadarajah v. Gonzales 一 The general immigration detention statutes do not authorize the Attorney General to incarcerate detainees for an indefinite period. Instead, they permit detention only while removal remains reasonably foreseeable.
Diouf v. Napolitano 一 Section 1231(a)(6) of the INA requires an individualized bond hearing before an immigration judge for foreign nationals facing prolonged detention under that provision. Such foreign nationals are entitled to release on bond unless the government establishes that the foreign national is a flight risk or will be a danger to the community.
Jennings v. Rodriguez 一 Detained foreign nationals do not have a right to periodic bond hearings during the course of their detention.
Johnson v. Arteaga-Martinez 一 Section 1231(a)(6) of the INA does not require the government to provide foreign nationals detained for six months with bond hearings in which the government bears the burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that a foreign national poses a flight risk or a danger to the community.
Judicial Review of Immigration Proceedings
Courts traditionally reviewed immigration proceedings through habeas corpus petitions. The REAL ID Act eliminated habeas review of final orders of removal or exclusion, but habeas challenges to detention remain available. The INA does not preclude review of constitutional claims or questions of law raised in a petition for review filed with a federal appellate court.
INS v. St. Cyr 一 The Suspension Clause of the Constitution, which protects the privilege of the habeas corpus writ, requires some judicial intervention in deportation cases. Habeas courts have answered questions of law in challenges to executive interpretations of immigration law and questions of law arising in the discretionary relief context.
Papageorgiou v. Gonzales 一 The REAL ID Act permits all foreign nationals, including those with criminal convictions, to obtain review of constitutional claims and questions of law upon filing a petition for review of a final removal order with an appropriate court of appeals. However, due process challenges to summary BIA affirmances of removal orders lack merit.
Enwonwu v. Chertoff 一 By adjusting the jurisdiction of the lower federal courts, Congress can effectively strip disfavored classes from full access to justice and thereby restrict or extinguish individual rights and liberties.
National Security and Terrorism Concerns
When immigration matters relate to national security, terrorism, and other issues of foreign policy, courts will accord substantial deference to government decisions. Court challenges in this area rarely succeed.
Harisiades v. Shaughnessy 一 Congress could authorize the deportation of a legally resident foreign national because of membership in the Communist Party, even though their membership terminated before the enactment of the law. Immigration policy is so exclusively entrusted to the political branches of the government that it is largely immune from judicial inquiry or interference.
Kleindienst v. Mandel 一 When the Attorney General decides for a legitimate and bona fide reason not to waive the statutory exclusion of a foreign national under Section 212(a)(28) of the INA, courts will not look behind this decision or weigh it against the First Amendment interests of those who would personally communicate with the foreign national.
People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran v. Dept. of State 一 Questions concerning the foreign policy decisions of the executive branch present political judgments. These are decisions of a kind for which the judiciary has neither aptitude, facilities, nor responsibilities and belong in the domain of political power not subject to judicial intrusion or inquiry.
Humanitarian Law Project v. Reno 一 The First Amendment does not prevent Congress from prohibiting contributions of material support to certain foreign terrorist organizations. (This involved review under intermediate scrutiny, which requires establishing that the regulation falls within the power of the government, the regulation promotes an important or substantial government interest that is unrelated to suppressing free expression, and the incidental restriction on First Amendment freedoms is no greater than necessary.)
Singh-Kaur v. Ashcroft 一 Providing food and setting up shelter for people engaged in terrorist activities constitutes affording material support within the meaning of the INA.
Foreign nationals are considered unauthorized immigrants when they enter the U.S. without valid documents, or stay beyond the expiration of a valid visa. Although their presence is illegal, they still have some constitutional protections.
Plyler v. Doe 一 A state law violated the Equal Protection Clause when it withheld from local school districts any state funds for the education of children who were not legally admitted into the U.S. and authorized local school districts to deny enrollment to these children.
Gonzales v. Peoria 一 Nothing in federal law precluded city police from enforcing the criminal provisions of the INA.
Lozano v. City of Hazleton 一 A city did not have the authority to enact ordinances that regulated the presence and employment of undocumented immigrants.
Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting 一 An Arizona law was not preempted when it instructed courts to suspend or revoke the business licenses of in-state employers that employ unauthorized aliens.
Arizona v. U.S. 一 Certain provisions of an Arizona law affecting undocumented immigrants were preempted by federal law.
This outline has been compiled by the Justia team for solely educational purposes and should not be treated as an independent source of legal authority or a summary of the current state of the law. Students should use this outline as a supplement rather than a substitute for course-specific outlines.