During the 1880s and 1890s, the judicial branch issued a series of decision that gave the executive branch extensive authority to enforce immigration restrictions in the name of national security. In the Wong Wing case, the Supreme Court found that the detention of immigrants was not a criminal punishment. This decision contributed to consigning immigrants to a separate system of government bureaucracy. Since then, immigrants’ cases are handled by immigration officers and legal decisions made by a separate system of immigration courts with fewer civic protections.
U.S. Supreme CourtWong Wing v. United States, 163 U.S. 228 (1896)
Argued April 1-2, 1896
Decided May 18, 1896
163 U.S. 228
MR. JUSTICE SHIRAS, after stating the facts in the foregoing language, delivered the opinion of the court…
We think it clear that detention or temporary confinement, as part of the means necessary to give effect to the provisions for the exclusion or expulsion of aliens, would be valid. Proceedings to exclude or expel would be vain if those accused could not be held in custody pending the inquiry into their true character, and while arrangements were being made for their deportation. Detention is a usual feature in every case of arrest on a criminal charge, even when an innocent person a wrongfully accused, but it is not imprisonment in a legal sense…
… But when Congress sees fit to further promote such a policy by subjecting the persons of such aliens to infamous punishment at hard labor, or by confiscating their property, we think such legislation, to be valid, must provide for a judicial trial to establish the guilt of the accused.
No limits can be put by the courts upon the power of Congress to protect, by summary methods, the country from the advent of aliens whose race or habits render them undesirable as citizens, or to expel such if they have already found their way into our land, and unlawfully remain therein. But to declare unlawful residence within the country to be an infamous crime, punishable by deprivation of liberty and property, would be to pass out of the sphere of constitutional legislation unless provision were made that the fact of guilt should first be established by a judicial trial. It is not consistent with the theory of our government that the legislature should, after having defined an offense as an infamous crime, find the fact of guilt and adjudge the punishment by one of its own agents.