There has been much talk about President Joe Biden’s advisors instructing him to “not touch” what Texas is doing to circumvent federal immigration law. Speculation suggests that the White House and Attorney General Merrick Garland fear what might happen if the case were to end up at the Supreme Court. However, the Constitution of the United States is very clear, as are the myriad cases that the court has decided on for more than a century.
In July of this year, the Supreme Court ruled against Texas and Louisiana when they sued the Executive Branch arguing that President Biden didn’t have the authority to determine how his administration conducts immigration enforcement. In an 8-1 vote, the Supreme Court affirmed that U.S. states do not have standing to challenge the federal government’s immigration enforcement policies.
Additionally, there are many examples throughout history that affirm the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution that grants the federal government sole authority over immigration.
- Takahashi v. Fish & Game Commission in 1948, the Supreme Court affirmed the exclusivity of federal power over immigration saying, “The Federal Government has broad constitutional powers in determining what aliens shall be admitted to the United States, the period they may remain, regulation of their conduct before naturalization, and the terms and conditions of their naturalization … Under the Constitution, the states are granted no such powers; they can neither add to nor take from the conditions lawfully imposed by Congress upon admission, naturalization, and residence of aliens in the United States or the several states.”
- United States v. Wong Kim Ark in 1898 affirms that “The power, granted to Congress by the Constitution, ‘to establish a uniform rule of naturalization,’ was long ago adjudged by this court to be vested exclusively in Congress … The Fourteenth Amendment affirms the rule of citizenship by birth within the territory, in the allegiance, and under the protection of the U.S., including most children born here to resident foreign nationals.”
- Chirac v. Lessee of Chirac in 1817 affirms “That the power of naturalization is exclusively in Congress does not seem to be, and certainly ought not to be, controverted”
An overview of the Naturalization Clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 4) of the U.S. Constitution highlights granting Congress with the “power . . . To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization … throughout the United States. The Supreme Court has described naturalization as the act of adopting a foreigner, and clothing him with the privileges of a native citizen. Pursuant to this authority, Congress may legislate terms and conditions by which a foreign-born national (alien) may become a U.S. citizen. Moreover, Congress’s power over naturalization is exclusive; states may not impose their own terms and conditions by which aliens may become U.S. citizens. Based on this broad power, Congress has enacted a series of laws governing the naturalization of aliens in the United States since the end of the eighteenth century. These naturalization laws have generally applied to three main categories of aliens: (1) those who have resided in the United States for certain periods of time and applied for naturalization; (2) those born abroad to U.S. citizen parents; and (3) those who derived citizenship after their parents naturalized in the United States.”
One doesn’t have to be a Constitutional Scholar to understand the laws that govern immigration and who is granted the sole power to do so. The U.S. Constitution sits above all laws and ordinances that purport to hold power over it – as noted in the Supremacy Clause. It is in this sense that states have no right to circumvent federal power, intervene when federal immigration enforcement attempts to do its job, or enforce the law using its own National Guard or law enforcement apparatus without federal government approval, be it Congress or the U.S. President.
“Article VI, Paragraph 2 of the U.S. Constitution is commonly referred to as the Supremacy Clause,’ says the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute. “It establishes that the federal constitution, and federal law generally, take precedence over state laws, and even state constitutions. It prohibits states from interfering with the federal government’s exercise of its constitutional powers, and from assuming any functions that are exclusively entrusted to the federal government. It does not, however, allow the federal government to review or veto state laws before they take effect.”
As noted here, this has been argued for more than 200 years as the U.S. Constitution makes clear. As many ask why the states of Texas, Florida, and Kansas, continue to write their own laws, the question becomes whether the Department of Justice, Attorney General Garland, or the White House are afraid of what the current far-right members of the Supreme Court may do.
However, allowing extremist Republican politicians to circumvent the Constitutional Rights of immigrants and citizens alike (book bans, LGBTQ civil rights, etc), is not the way forward. We can not be silent as states continue to suppress already oppressed groups. Otherwise, history will point to the Biden administration allowing these tyrannical laws that target certain groups.
Surely that’s not the legacy the president wants to create. Or is it?
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