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Rights Of Aliens

Aliens enjoy many of the rights afforded to citizens. They can claim general protections under the Constitution and the BILL OF RIGHTS. On the other hand, aliens cannot vote or hold federal elective office—rights belonging solely to citizens. Further legal rights depend on an alien's status: use of the courts, ownership of land, obtaining a public education, and qualifying for federal welfare benefits are each to a varying degree restricted to lawful resident aliens. Similarly, the liability of an alien to pay taxes depends on resident or nonresident status. Resident aliens pay taxes in much the same way that citizens do; nonresident aliens may qualify for special exemptions. Aliens can also be required to obtain a so-called exit permit to ensure that all taxes owed are paid before leaving the country.

In addition to following laws generally, aliens also have special duties. Some visas impose additional requirements such as notifying the BCIS of changes of address and refraining from engaging in paid employment. Criminal penalties apply to some misconduct of aliens and citizens who abet them, including MISREPRESENTATION or fraud in obtaining immigration status, unlawful entry, and transporting or concealing an undocumented alien. For aliens who violate the law, the penalty is commonly deportation. Citizens who bring aliens into the country illegally may face a fine, imprisonment for up to five years, or both, for each alien they have illegally transported.

Although the Supreme Court has held that Congress alone makes immigration law, historically, states have placed harsh restrictions on aliens. In 1886, the Supreme Court struck down a San Francisco ordinance effectively banning Chinese laundries, in the landmark case YICK WO V. HOPKINS, 118 U.S. 356, 6 S. Ct. 1064, 30 L. Ed. 220. Yick Wo established that the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause applied to aliens. But states simply ignored it, and, for decades, the Supreme Court found numerous ways to uphold discriminatory restrictions.

In state cases, a turning point came in 1971. In Graham v. Richardson, 403 U.S. 365, 91 S. Ct. 1848, 29 L. Ed. 2d 534, the Supreme Court held that aliens could not be denied state welfare benefits. Most important, the Graham decision struck a blow against state discrimination in general: it said that EQUAL PROTECTION cases involving aliens would be subject to the same STRICT SCRUTINY applied in RACIAL DISCRIMINATION cases. In a series of decisions that followed, the Court removed numerous state barriers—laws that barred all aliens from competitive civil service employment, engineering licenses, and licenses to practice law. Nonetheless, through the late 1970s and 1980s, it backed away from the strict scrutiny standard: it upheld New York's limitations on the certification of alien public school teachers (Ambach v. Norwick, 441 U.S. 68, 99 S. Ct. 1589, 60 L. Ed. 2d 49[1979]), for example, and California's restriction of peace officer jobs to citizens (Cabell v. Chavez-Salido, 454 U.S. 432, 102 S. Ct. 735, 70 L. Ed. 2d 225 [1982]). One key exception was Plylerv. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 102 S. Ct. 2382, 72 L. Ed. 2d 786 (1982), granting the children of undocumented aliens the right to attend public schools.

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