Monday, December 1, 2014

Immigration History: The Constitution

Previous: Before the Constitution

As explained previously, the lack of a national naturalization policy in the Articles of Confederation was one of the motivations for adopting the Constitution. The Constitution fixed this deficiency in Article 1 Section 8 by granting Congress the power "[t]o establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization."

However, there was no corresponding grant of power to Congress to establish or otherwise restrict immigration. The closest the Constitution comes is in Article 1 Section 9, where it provides:
The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.
This clause is widely interpreted to be a reference to prohibiting the slave trade, nothing more. And in fact, relying on this clause, Congress passed and President Jefferson signed legislation prohibiting the slave trade in 1808.

During the ratification debates opponents of the Constitution attempted to argue that this clause could be used to "prevent voluntary and beneficial emigrations from Europe to America." James Madison in Federalist No. 42, after affirming that it was directed at the slave trade, dismissed, among others, the immigration argument: "I mention these misconstructions, not with a view to give them an answer, for they deserve none, but as specimens of the manner and spirit in which some have thought fit to conduct their opposition to the proposed government."

Now, the Constitution only granted the new national government limited legislative powers. It specifically states in Article 1 Section 1 that "All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives." (emphasis added). This is in contrast to the opening of Articles 2 and 3, which grant "[t]he executive Power" and  "[t]he judicial Power" to the President and the courts, respectively. Unlike the other two, the legislative grant of power is limited, not plenary. And were there any confusion about this, the Tenth Amendment was added: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

So here's the problem. Under the Constitution, Congress has limited legislative powers, and those powers do not explicitly include the power to regulate immigration (remember, immigration is distinct from naturalization). So to the extent that immigration restrictions are classified as legislative, there is a significant problem.

There are a few ways around this. If immigration restrictions are somehow "necessary and proper for carrying into Execution" the naturalization power, it could be included there. Or if immigration is considered part of commerce, it could be regulated through the commerce clause. And there always is the slave trade clause. However, none of that is clear from the founding era or founding debates. Consequently, under a strict textualist approach, an argument remains that Congress has no Constitutional authority to legislate an immigration policy.

Hold that thought, for we shall return to it. It will take the judicial branch nearly a hundred years to sort it out.

Next: Naturalization and Deportation
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...