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09/15/2018

Cato Institute Symposium on Federal Immigration Power
Michael Ramsey

At Cato Unbound, a symposium on federal immigration power, featuring Ilya Somin with the lead article and responses (to come) by Gabriel Chen and John Eastman.  From Professor Somin:

Immigration has become one of the most controversial legal and policy issues on the national agenda, especially since Donald Trump won the presidency on a highly restrictionist platform and began to implement his anti-immigration agenda, seeking to drastically reduce both legal and illegal migration.

Legal debates over immigration have also flourished, such as the recent litigation over Trump’s travel ban order, which the Supreme Court narrowly upheld against claims that it was the result of unconstitutional discrimination on the basis of religion. But few have even considered the possibility that the federal government lacks a general power to restrict immigration to begin with. If such power is absent, many federal immigration restrictions are unconstitutional regardless of whether they might violate individual rights.

And absent it is. If you peruse the list of federal powers in Articles I and II of the Constitution, a general power to restrict immigration is notable by its absence. It just simply is not there. That is not because the Framers only included a small number of very important powers and then left the rest to implication. To the contrary, Article I contains a long and detailed list of congressional powers, including comparatively minor ones, such as the authority to establish “post roads” and “fix the Standards of Weights and Measures.” If the Framers had wanted to give the federal government so massively important a power as the authority to ban immigration, one would think they would have clearly said so.

Legal theorists have developed a vast cottage industry of arguments claiming that the power over immigration can be implied from other authorities given the federal government, or that it is somehow present without being enumerated at all. But these efforts are ultimately unavailing.

The text and the original meaning of the Constitution undercut the notion that the federal government has general authority to restrict immigration, in the sense of having the power to forbid movement to the United States simply on the basis that a would-be immigrant was born abroad and is not a U.S. citizen. The doctrine that Congress has broad “plenary” power over immigration is long established and – today – rarely questioned. But it is actually an emperor walking around without clothes, or at least far more scantily clad than most assume.

(Via Volokh Conspiracy).