TODAY’S QUESTION: non-citizens’ rights
The U.S. Supreme Court has not addressed whether undocumented immigrants have
all the constitutional protections that U.S. citizens enjoy; however, in 1945
the high court did hold that “Freedom of speech and of press is accorded aliens
residing in this country” (Bridges v. Wixon, 326 U.S. 135, 148).
In his concurring opinion, Justice Frank Murphy went even further, saying
that “once an alien lawfully enters and resides in this country he becomes
invested with the rights guaranteed by the Constitution to all people within our
borders. Such rights include those protected by the First and the Fifth
Amendments …” (161).
Also, in the 1982 case Plyler v. Doe (457 U.S. 202), the Supreme Court said
the children of undocumented immigrants have the right to a public
However, the courts, including the Supreme Court, have more recently stated
that these protections may be limited. In 1990, the Supreme Court said cases
establishing constitutional protections extended to aliens “are constitutional
decisions of this Court expressly according differing protection to aliens than
to citizens, based on our conclusion that the particular provisions in question
were not intended to extend to aliens in the same degree as to citizens” (United
States v. Verdugo-Urquidez, 494 U.S. 259).
In addition, the Court historically has afforded Congress great deference in
the area of immigration and naturalization. For example, in 1999 the Supreme
Court ruled in a case involving the deportation of eight resident aliens with
ties to “international terrorist and communist organizations” that “as a general
matter … an alien unlawfully in this country has no constitutional right to
assert selective enforcement as a defense against his deportation” (Reno v.
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Comm., 525 U.S. 471, 488).
In 2002, in Hoffman Plastic Compounds v. NLRB (535 U.S. 137, the
Supreme Court ruled that an undocumented worker could not receive back pay, as
per the National Labor Relations Act, after he was unlawfully fired for
participating in union organizing activities because he was not entitled to
employment in the first place. (The NLRB awards back pay as a remedy for workers
fired for participating in such activity.) This ruling is seen by some as
limiting the rights of assembly and association of undocumented workers.