The Case: U.S. Supreme Court decision on immigration rights
Date: Decided on May 25, 1925
Significance: The Cheung Sum Shee ruling held that treaty provisions guaranteeing rights for foreign citizens were legally binding unless Congress had clearly and explicitly abrogated those rights.
The Immigration Act of 1924, effective from July 1 of that year, allowed entrance into the United States of alien merchants who came “solely to carry on trade” in pursuance of an existing treaty of commerce and navigation. When Cheung Sum Shee, a Chinese merchant, arrived with his wife and minor children on July 11, 1924, government officials refused their application to land. Their explanation was that the new law did not mention the right of a merchant to bring his family.
When the case reached the Supreme Court, the justices unanimously agreed that the government was obligated to allow the admission of the Shee family. Writing the opinion for the Court, Justice James Clark McReynolds made two factual observations: First, the 1880 treaty with China guaranteed the right of visiting merchants to bring their families with them; second, the Immigration Act of 1924, as well as other laws, had not explicitly abrogated this particular right. He affirmed that an act of Congress
must be construed with the view to preserve treaty rights unless clearly annulled, and we cannot conclude that, considering its history, the general terms therein disclose a congressional intent absolutely to exclude the petitioners from entry.
Although the members of the Shee family were ineligible for naturalization, there was no limit to the number of years that Shee was permitted to stay in the United States with the purpose of engaging in commerce.
Thomas Tandy Lewis
See also: Chang Chan v. Nagle; Chinese immigrants; Constitution, U.S.; Supreme Court, U.S.