November 8, 2012
Daily Read: Non-Citizens and Constitutional Rights
The constitutional "rights" of noncitizens are now less likely to be successfully argued under equal protection theories than under federalism (preemption) or administrative agency power issues according to Geoffrey Heeren in his article Persons Who Are Not The People: The Changing Rights of Immigrants in The United States, forthcoming in 44 Colum. Hum. Rts. L. Rev. and available in draft on ssrn.
Heeren reminds us that in the 1886 case of Yick Wo v. Hopkins, the United States Supreme Court recognized the Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claims by noncitizens, including immigrants within its definition of "we the people." Yet, although such early Supreme Court cases upheld immigrants’ right to work in the face of state restrictions, relying heavily on the logic and rhetoric of natural rights, in more recent cases such as Arizona v. United States these equality norms are missing. Heeren argues this is a loss given the importance of "rights." He concludes:
In this climate, perhaps the best that can be hoped is for immigrants to invoke individual rights proxies like federalism or agency skepticism. But history, even U.S. legal history, is full of sudden change. The contemporary Supreme Court may prioritize structural rights based on federalism over individual rights and administrative law claims over constitutional ones. But these currently prevailing doctrines evolved from a very different state of affairs—one in which immigrants succeeded to a remarkable extent in pressing claims as equals.
Heeren's article is worth considering not only in light of his excellent discussion of various constitutional doctrines but also in terms of the political consequences of "rights" for noncitizens.
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