Landon v. Plasencia

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459 U.S. 21 (1982)

The Supreme Court held that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) had the statutory authority to determine the admissibility of a permanent resident alien in an exclusion hearing, but that permanent resident aliens may claim the protections of the due process clause in such proceedings. (Read the opinion here).

In an opinion delivered by Justice O’Connor, the Court addressed whether the INS exceeded its statutory authority when it denied the entry of a permanent resident alien in an exclusion hearing rather than a deportation hearing. The Respondent asserted that under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (INA), a deportation hearing was required to determine whether the permanent resident alien was attempting to “enter” the U.S and whether she was excludable. The Court rejected the Respondent’s argument and concluded that Congress did not intend to require the INS to proceed only through deportation hearings in such matters. The Court relied on the language and history of the INA to conclude that Congress intended that the admissibility of an alien can be determined in an exclusion hearing, regardless of whether or not that alien is a permanent resident.

The Court also addressed the Respondent’s argument that the use of an exclusion hearing to determine whether or not an alien attempted to “enter” the U.S. was improperly circular. Stating that “it is no more circular to allow the immigration judge in the exclusion proceeding to determine whether the alien is making an entry than it is for any court to decide that it has jurisdiction when the facts relevant to jurisdiction are also relevant to the merits,” the Court rejected the reasoning of the lower courts that deciding the question in an exclusion proceeding was per se unfair.

Much of the opinion focused on the right of the permanent resident alien to invoke the due process clause in her proceedings. Although an alien seeking initial admission to the United States has no constitutional rights, once an alien begins to develop the ties to the United States that go with permanent residence, her constitutional status changes. The Court implied that the a factual inquiry is necessary to determine if the privilege can be invoked, stating that “the constitutional sufficiency of procedures provided in any situation varies with the circumstances.” Should a permanent resident alien remain away from the U.S. for an extended period, she may lose her entitlement to due process in the assessment of her right to return. Additionally for consideration are factors such as the interests of the alien and the government’s interest in efficient administration of immigration laws at the border.

Finally, the Court asserted that the role of the judiciary is limited to determining whether immigration procedures satisfy the minimum requirements of due process. Because Congress did not intend to require the INS to perform a deportation hearing to determine admissibility of a permanent resident alien attempting to enter the U.S., it would be improper for the reviewing court to impose specific deportation procedures even if it finds them preferable.

Justice Marshall concurred in part and dissented in part. He agreed that the INS was statutorily permitted to proceed against the alien in an exclusion hearing and that she was entitled to due process. Instead of remanding the case, however, he would hold that the alien was denied due process because she was not given adequate and timely notice of the charges and of her right to retain counsel and present a defense.

Authored by: Amanda Minikus, Cornell Law School