In the recent charged climate in the United States, there has been fierce debate over how to balance free speech rights with the rights of immigrants, especially the undocumented, to be free of harassment or governmental mistreatment. Some persist in the misconception that non-citizens have no Constitutional rights whatsoever, which could easily lead to a normalization of persecution of even those who have legal status in the country. Some simply are uncertain. Immigrants do have certain rights, even if undocumented, though, and it is important to be aware of them if you or a loved one is caught up in recent events.
The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is what grants the most important rights to all people within the borders of the United States, regardless of citizenship status. Its Equal Protection Clause states that no state may “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.” It does not specify citizens or immigrants with status; it says persons, and as such, this clause has been construed to apply to everyone present. The Equal Protection Clause itself essentially holds that no one may be discriminated against on the basis of certain immutable characteristics like race, gender or nationality, without a compelling state interest in doing so.
The rest of the 14th Amendment also stipulates explicitly that no one present in the U.S. may be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process. (Having due process rights means that a person may not simply be summarily jailed or otherwise punished without having had the chance to speak and/or present evidence in his or her own defense.) This grants immigrants due process rights, such as the right to object to any search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment unless a search warrant has been obtained.
Rights Gained From Case Law
The Constitution is not, of course, the only source of law in the United States; past cases and rulings also govern the shape of future law. In the past century and a half, U.S. courts have routinely sided with immigrants in asserting their rights to such American ideals as the right to a free and appropriate public education (Plyler v. Doe, 1982), the right against self-incrimination and the right to a speedy trial (Almeida-Sanchez v. U.S., 1973), and the right to file suit against unjust treatment even if the law appears facially neutral (Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 1886).
Disputants of such a proposition point to rights denied, such as voting and ownership of most firearms, as proof that immigrants do not enjoy the same rights as citizens. This is not strictly accurate—those rights, as well as the rights to apply for certain government jobs, are some of the only rights explicitly denied to non-U.S. citizens. To assume that the cornerstones of U.S. constitutional law, which have unequivocally been granted to all those present, somehow disappear because certain rights are reserved for citizens, is utterly devoid of logic, and yet, such leaps persist.
Contact an Immigration Attorney
Despite the creeping tide of misinformation making itself known in U.S. politics and jurisprudence in recent months, it is imperative to know that immigrants do have rights which cannot be taken away except by the most extreme measures. If you have questions, an immigration lawyer may be able to help, or at least to set your mind at ease. The zealous Chicago immigration attorneys at Mevorah Law Offices LLC know the law and are not afraid to use it. Contact us today to set up an initial consultation.
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