In 1892, Congress voted to renew the Chinese Exclusion laws for ten more years with added provisions and clarifications that expanded the federal government’s powers to enforce immigration laws. The Geary Act required Chinese in the United States to carry a Certificate of Residence, a precursor of the green card system, to prove that they had legally entered. Under advisement from U.S. attorneys, Chinese residents immediately challenged these requirements as unconstitutional as they singled out Chinese residents and violated the equal protections provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment.
To their dismay, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the “sovereign and plenary powers” of the federal government over immigration matters and found the Geary Act constitutional. After the case, the U.S. government provided a second opportunity for Chinese to register before proceeding to enforce this law.
U.S. Supreme Court Fong Yue Ting v. United States, 149 U.S. 698 (1893)
Fong Yue Ting v. United States
Nos. 1345, 1346, 1347
Argued May 10, 1893
Decided May 15, 1893
149 U.S. 698
The first petition alleged that the petitioner was a person of the Chinese race, born in China, and not a naturalized citizen of the United States; that, in or before 1879, he came to the United States, with the intention of remaining and taking up his residence therein, and with no definite intention of returning to China, and had ever since been a permanent resident of the United States, and for more than a year last past had resided in the City, County, and State of New York, and within the second district for the collection of internal revenue in that State; that he had not, since the passage of the act of 1892, applied to the collector of internal revenue of that district for a certificate of residence, as required by section 6, and was, and always had been, without such certificate of residence; and that he was arrested by the marshal, claiming authority to do so under that section, without any writ or warrant…
…. Congress, under the power to exclude or expel aliens, might have directed any Chinese laborer found in the United States without a certificate of residence to be removed out of the country by executive officers, without judicial trial or examination, just as it might have authorized such officers absolutely to prevent his entrance into the country…
Plenary Power Defined:
From Parker, K. M.: “a power grounded in sovereignty, unfettered by the U.S. Constitution” (p. 6); “one not grounded in any portion of the constitutional text, not limited by any particular provision of the U.S. Constitution, and largely immune from substantive judicial review” (p. 119).
Excerpts from: Parker, K. M. (2015). Making foreigners: Immigration and citizenship law in America, 1600-2000. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
From The Atlantic: “immigration law is, in many ways, a constitution-free zone, governed by what the Supreme Court has called “the plenary power of Congress” over decisions of who may enter the U.S. and who may not. The “plenary power doctrine” essentially holds that Congress can make distinctions among immigrants—including some based on sex, race, and national origin—that (as the Court said in 1976) “would be unacceptable if applied to citizens” (retrieved from The Atlantic)