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Immigrants' Rights

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Background and Overview
From the founding of the United States to the late 1990s, some 55 million immigrants have come to the country, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Furthermore, not including Native Americans, everyone in the United States is an immigrant or the descendant of immigrants. The Statue of Liberty bears the inscribed invitation "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" as a testament to the country's commitment to immigration and the role it has played and continues to play in the development of the country. Despite its foundation on immigration, calls for tougher immigration laws and restrictions on immigrants' rights have rung out periodically throughout the country's history, especially in times of economicand social turmoil. For example, mobs used Irish Catholic immigrants as scapegoats during the depression of the 1840s and persecuted them, burning a convent in Boston and starting a riot in Philadelphia. In addition, many immigrants were deported in the 1920s during the communist scare for simply being suspected of holding views akin to communism without any hearing. Also, Japaneseimmigrants had their homes and property confiscated and were held in camps until the end of World War II.
Each year, the country admits approximately 800,000 legal immigrants wishingto settle in the United States as permanent residents. This number includes 400,000 who join close family members who are already legal immigrants in theUnited States, 140,000 people who will fill jobs for which the U.S. Bureau ofLabor finds a shortage of U.S. workers, and 110,000 refugees who have demonstrated persecution in their homelands. The Immigration and Naturalization Service estimated the number of undocumented immigrants that enter the country each year is about 275,000 or less than 1 percent of the population.
Immigrants generally are entitled to many of the rights native-born citizensenjoy. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights provide alien immigrants withthe same rights as U.S. citizens, although they cannot vote or hold federal elective offices unless they become citizens. Through the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, immigrants are protected from many state laws and regulations that violate their rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Depending on their status, immigrants may or may not have to pay taxes: resident immigrants must pay taxes, while nonresident immigrants often qualify fortax exemptions.
Although it is a crime to enter the country unlawfully and punishable by deportation, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on many occasions that once in thecountry immigrants have the right to a hearing that satisfies the Due ProcessClause of the Fourteenth Amendment. As early as 1903 in Yamataya v. Fisher, the Court has upheld this right of immigrants, whether legal or illegal. Because of cases such as Yamataya v. Fisher, immigrants generally are entitled to a hearing before an immigration judge and review by a federaljudge, representation by a lawyer, reasonable notice of charges, reasonable time to examine evidence, interpretation for non-English speakers, and straightforward and convincing proof that the government has valid reasons for deportation, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Key Legislation
The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 put in place a series of requirements aimed at reducing the number of undocumented immigrants in thecountry. The IRCA's primary method of achieving this goal included imposingpenalties on employers who willingly hired illegal immigrants. In addition, the IRCA contained specific provisions responding to the dependence of seasonal agriculture on immigrant labor.
The Immigration Act of 1990, on the other hand, mainly dealt with establishing limits on the number of legal immigrants admitted each year and creating provisions for admitting more immigrants from underrepresented countries. As aresult, the number of immigrants admitted to fill jobs became limited to 140,000. The act also contained a preference system for determining which immigrants to admit, favoring immigrants seeking to be reunited with their families,those filling jobs, and those contributing to the greater diversity of the country.
The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) contained a variety of measures designed to prevent the escalation of illegal immigrants and to expedite the deportation of illegal immigrants. Ultimately, some of these measures provoked intense debate over whether they were constitutional. Some of its key provisions include increasing the size of theBorder Patrol by the year 2001, restricting the admission of previously deported illegal immigrants, limiting legal review and appeals for immigrants convicted of crimes, and increasing the size of immigrant detention centers.
Landmark Cases
In many cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that only Congress is empowered to enact immigrant law. However, throughout the country's history, variousstates have tried to limit immigrant rights. The Supreme Court often has ruled against such discriminatory laws over the years. For example, in Yick Wov. Hopkins (1886), the Supreme Court found that the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection applied to citizens as well as to immigrants. In this case, San Francisco relied on an ordinance restricting laundry businesses from operating in certain kinds of buildings to ban Chinese-owned laundries. Yick Wo had run a laundry in the city for 22 years in the same building, but was denied a new license in 1885--along with numerous other laundry operations of Chinese immigrants--because of alleged violations of a safety ordinance prohibiting laundry businesses from occupying wooden buildings. However, the Court discovered that of the city's 320 laundries, 310 were constructed of wood and only the laundries run by Chinese immigrants (240) were deniednew licenses, while the remaining laundries stood to benefit from the discriminatory enforcement of the ordinance. Justice Matthews, writing for the majority, found that while the ordinance itself violated no one's rights, the enforcement of it clearly drew "an arbitrary line, on one side of which [were] those who [were] permitted to pursue their industry by the mere will and consent of the supervisors, and on the other those from whom that consent [was] withheld, at their mere will and pleasure."
The U.S. Supreme Court echoed the tenor of this decision in 1971, ruling in Graham v. Richardson that legal immigrants could not be refused welfarebenefits from the states. This case also signaled that equal protection cases would be subject to the same thorough review that racial discrimination cases receive. Here, the Court found state statutes denying welfare benefits toresident immigrants and to immigrants who had not resided in the country fora certain number of years unconstitutional. The Court determined that such statutes undercut and interfered with the federal government's exclusive powerover immigrant affairs. Through a number of following decisions, the Court banned many restrictive state laws that violated the rights of immigrants, eliminating statutes that prevented immigrants from obtaining competitive civil service employment, engineering licenses, and licenses to practice law.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court's stance softened in the late 1970s and 1980s, as it upheld New York's restrictive policies denying teacher certificationto alien immigrants in Ambach v. Norwick (1979). The Court found thatthe state's policy not to grant permanent public school teacher certificationto immigrants with an alien status unless they intended to apply for citizenship did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. TheCourt reasoned that since previous decisions had banned alien immigrants fromholding public employment or limited their holding of public positions, NewYork's policy did not violate the Equal Protection Clause. Similarly, the Court upheld California's law preventing alien immigrants from serving as probation officers in Cabell v. Chavez-Salido (1982). The Court held that "acitizenship requirement is an appropriate limitation on those who exercise and, therefore, symbolize this power of the political community over those whofall within its jurisdiction."
Nevertheless, the Court shifted its position again in the 1982 case Plylerv. Doe, ruling that the children of undocumented immigrants have the right to attend public schools. Texas adopted a policy of prohibiting the children of undocumented immigrants from receiving a public school education. However, the Court found that although illegal immigrants and their children are not citizens, they still are entitled to the Fourteenth Amendment's protections. Because the state law greatly limited the potential of these children by refusing them education and because the state could not demonstrate that the law served a "compelling state interest," the Court declared it unconstitutional.
Current Issues in Immigrants' Rights
Immigration policies and immigrants, rights came under attack in the mid- tolate-1990s as California adopted laws that would restrict public services such as public school education and non-emergency health care to illegal aliensand require immigrant students to learn English. California voters passed thecontroversial Proposition 187 in 1994. The bill's supporters contended thatundocumented immigrants cost the state billions of dollars in public servicesannually.
In addition, several members of Congress, including House Speaker Newt Gingrich, proposed making English the country's national language, which force immigrants to learn and use English. Moreover, Congress passed welfare reform legislation (Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of1996) that cut Medicaid, Supplementary Security Income, and federal food stamps to legal immigrants. Although Congress approved an extension of Medicaid and Supplementary Security Income to about 500,000 immigrants who entered thecountry legally prior to the adoption of the welfare reform policies, it failed to pass any bills for permanently providing minor, elderly, and disabled legal immigrants with Medicaid and Supplementary Security Income by mid-1998.Therefore, the ACLU, the state of Florida, and various organizations took steps to restore such benefits to legal immigrants by suing the Social SecurityAdministration in cases such as Sutich v. Callahan (1997) and challenging California's immigrant laws in cases such as League of United Latin American Citizens v. Pete Wilson (1997).
Furthermore, members of Congress eyed Proposition 187 as a possible nationalsolution to illegal immigration. In 1996, Congress debated passing the Gallegly Amendment, a national law that would deny children of illegal immigrants public education and other public services. Although Congress finally droppedthe amendment from an immigrant bill it sent to the president, some members continued to push for such legislation as a separate bill in the late 1990s.
Despite its concessions, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 still contained a number of controversial measures, including one that made deporting both documented and undocumented immigrants easier and one that deprived federal judges of the power to review deportation cases and grant deportation waivers. However, U.S. District Court Judge Jack B.Weinstein heard a case brought before the court by American Civil LibertiesUnion that disputed this interpretation of the Immigrant Act and concluded that federal courts still held the power to review deportation cases and grantwaivers.

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