The Case: U.S. Supreme Court decision concerning deportation of Chinese immigrants
Date: May 15, 1893
Significance: Upholding the constitutionality of the Geary Act of 1892, the controversial Fong Yue Ting decision recognized that the U.S. Congress had almost unlimited discretion to establish all aspects of the nation’s immigration policy, including the rules and procedures for alien registration and deportation.
Because Fong Yue Ting was an immigrant laborer born in China to Chinese parents, he was ineligible for U.S. naturalization. He wanted to continue living in the United States but did have the certificate of residence that was required by the Geary Act. Following his arrest by a federal marshal, a district judge of New York ordered his immediate deportation without a hearing of any kind. Fong appealed the action, claiming that he had applied for a certificate but could not supply the “credible white witness” required by the Geary Act. Because he had only Chinese acquaintances, he argued that the law’s requirement was unfair, but a federal court of appeals quickly rejected his argument. Eventually, his case reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
By a 6-3 vote, a divided Supreme Court upheld the rulings of the two lower courts. Writing on behalf of the majority, Justice Horace Gray cited a large number of court precedents and authoritative books on international law. He declared that the power of “every sovereign nation” to deport noncitizens was “as absolute and unqualified as the right to prohibit and prevent their entrance into the country.” There was no reason, therefore, why Congress might not add requirements for immigrants already residing in the country. Although the three dissenting justices did not deny congressional authority to enact new requirements, they insisted that the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment mandated that any person residing in the country be given an opportunity to challenge a deportation order in a judicial hearing.
Thomas Tandy Lewis
See also: Asian immigrants; Chinese Exclusion Cases; Citizenship; Congress, U.S.; Constitution, U.S.; Deportation; Geary Act of 1892; Immigration law; Supreme Court, U.S.