Clarence Thomas on Immigration
Supreme Court Justice (nominated by Pres. Bush Sr. 1991)
What is it about America that people risk lives to get in?
Thomas asked the big-picture question: "What is there about this country that will lead people to crawl through sewers, get on inner-tubes and float across miles of water, to sneak out in the middle of the night, to cram in under trucks and buses, and
risk their lives going across mountains. What is it about this country that people will do all those things to come in, and what is it about the Soviet Union or Cuba or Eastern Bloc countries that would force people to do those same things to get out?"
Source: Winning Right, by Ed Gillespie, p.252-253
, Sep 5, 2006
No judicial limit on detaining illegal immigrants
The Supreme Court ruled today that the government may not detain deportable aliens indefinitely simply for lack of a country willing to take them. The 5-to-4 decision rejected the government’s view, as argued by both the Clinton and Bush administrations,
that immigration law authorized and the Constitution permitted indefinite, even lifelong detention of immigrants adjudged deportable but unable to be repatriated.
Justice Breyer’s majority opinion-joined by O’Connor, Stevens, Souter, and Ginsburg-
said that because interpreting the law in that way would present a “serious constitutional threat” under the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process, the court would construe the law to permit only “reasonable” detention, [defined as] six months in
Justice Kennedy objected that the court was unwisely substituting “judicial judgment for the executive’s discretion and authority.” The case, Zadvydas v. Davis, No. 99-7791, will have an immediate impact on at least several thousand people.
Source: Linda Greenhouse, NY Times
, Jun 29, 2001
Automatic deportation for aliens convicted of crimes.
Justice Thomas joined the dissent on INS v. St. Cyr on Jun 25, 2001:
The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) began deportation of Enrico St. Cyr after he pleaded guilty to a controlled substance violation. St. Cyr, a lawful permanent resident for ten years and a citizen of Haiti, became deportable by being convicted of the controlled substance violation. Before the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), the Attorney General could waive deportation of resident aliens. The AEDPA and IIRIRA, however, limited the class of aliens who can apply for relief.
HELD: By Stevens, joined by Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, BreyerJustices decide, 5-4, against automatic deportation of those convicted of crimes before new stringent legal provisions took effect in 1996. Congress did not intend to strip the federal district courts of their authority to hear petitions from deportable aliens and that the
AEDPA and IIRIRA did not deny relief to aliens who would have been eligible for such relief at the time of their convictions.
DISSENT #1: By Scalia, joined by Rehnquist, Thomas, and joined in part by O'Connor Scalia, in dissent, argued that the plain language of the AEDPA and IIRIRA stripped the federal district courts of jurisdiction to entertain habeas corpus petitions. Scalia also argued that the majority was forcing Congress to use "magic words" to overcome the presumption of habeas corpus relief.
DISSENT #2: By O'ConnorThe law guarantees some minimum extent of habeas review, but the right asserted by the alien in this case falls outside the scope of that review.
Source: Supreme Court case 01-ST-CYR argued on Apr 24, 2001
INS may hold suspects for deportation, but habeas applies.
Justice Thomas joined the concurrence on Demore v. Kim on Apr 29, 2003:
The Immigration and Nationality Act allows taking into custody any alien who is removable from this country because he has been convicted of one of a specified set of crimes. Respondent Kim, a lawful permanent resident alien, was convicted in state court of first-degree burglary; the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) charged him with being deportable, and detained him, without bail, pending his removal hearing.
HELD: By Rehnquist; joined in full by Kennedy; in part by O'Connor, Scalia, & ThomasThe Court held
Rehnquist wrote that Congress, concerned that deportable criminal aliens may fail to appear for their removal hearings, has the authority to require that persons be detained for the
brief period necessary for their removal proceedings.
- that the Immigration and Nationality Act does not deprive the federal courts of jurisdiction to grant habeas relief to aliens challenging their detention, and
- that detention during removal proceedings is a constitutionally permissible part of that process.
CONCURRENCE IN PART 2; DISSENT IN PART 1: By O'Connor; joined by Scalia & ThomasO'Connor dissented from the first holding, reasoning that the Act deprives federal courts of jurisdiction in such a case.
CONCURRENCE IN PART 1; DISSENT IN PART 2: By Souter; joined by Stevens, Ginsburg & BreyerThis concurrence dissented from the Court's second holding; i.e., that the INS may not indefinitely hold people awaiting hearings for deportation. The minority argued against lengthy mandatory detention: "The Court's holding that the Constitution permits the Government to lock up a lawful permanent resident of this country when there is concededly no reason to do so forgets over a century of precedent acknowledging the rights of permanent residents, including the basic liberty from physical confinement lying at the heart of due process."
Source: Supreme Court case 03-DEMORE argued on Jan 15, 2003
AZ may revoke licenses for hiring unauthorized aliens.
Justice Thomas joined the Court's decision on CHAMBER OF COMMERCE v. WHITING on May 26, 2011:
The 1986 federal Immigration Reform and Control Act forbids state governments from sanctioning employers who hire "unauthorized aliens." The 2007 Legal Arizona Workers Act authorizes State courts to suspend and revoke State-issued licenses, charters, etc. for businesses that knowingly hire "unauthorized aliens." The AZ law also requires employers to use the federal E-Verify system to determine the work eligibility of all employees.
HELD:Delivered by Roberts; joined by Scalia, Kennedy, Alito & ThomasThe federal law allows States to take licensing action. The word "license" includes the many forms of legal permission to perform an act, and therefore includes charters, articles of incorporation, etc. The AZ law relies only on determinations made by federal authorities of employment eligibility, and allows employers the same good faith defense as in federal law. Employers, in fact, must use the E-Verify system provided by the federal government.
DISSENT #1:Breyer dissents; joined by GinsburgThe AZ law intrudes on Congress's balancing of
The meaning of "licensing" in the immigration law was never intended to mean every form of business permit that a State might issue, but only in regards to licensed employment agencies. Also, E-Verify is error prone and may not be relied upon.
- immigration enforcement
- burdens on employers, and
- prevention of discrimination.
DISSENT #2:Sotomayor dissentsThis one poorly drafted clause in the federal immigration statute was only meant to allow States to take action against business licenses AFTER a successful federal government prosecution of a business for hiring an unauthorized alien. The AZ law runs contrary to the uniformity and expertise in enforcement of immigration law that Congress intended by allowing only federal officials to prosecute and rule upon civil and criminal cases.
Kagan recused herself.
Source: Supreme Court case 11-WHITING argued on Dec 8, 2010
Page last updated: Jan 15, 2017