FACT CHECK: Do Illegal Immigrants Have No Rights Under The Constitution?

Peter Hasson | Editor

A recent survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 53 percent of Americans believe it is “somewhat accurate” or “very accurate” that “Those who are in the country illegally do not have any rights under the U.S. Constitution.”

Verdict: False

The Supreme Court has held that illegal immigrants do have some rights protected by the Constitution.

Fact Check: 

“It is beyond question that all persons in the United States are under the Constitution’s jurisdiction and protection. As the Supreme Court held in the 2001 case of Zadvydas v. Davis, ‘once an alien enters the country, the legal circumstance changes, for the due process clause applies to all persons within the United States.’ On this much, the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments protect all persons within the bounds of the United States, not just citizens,” said Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute.

“Other rights have been specifically recognized by the Court, such as the provision of K-12 education, and of a government-appointed lawyer in criminal proceedings. Non-citizens’ rights are not equal to those of U.S. citizens, however. For example, they have no right to vote in state and national elections and in immigration proceedings they have no right to counsel,” Shapiro said.

The Supreme Court ruled in Zadvydas v. Davis in 2001 that “the Due Process Clause applies to all persons within the United States, including aliens, whether their presence is lawful, unlawful, temporary, or permanent.”

Similarly, the Supreme Court held the 1982 case Plyler v. Doe struck down a Texas law withholding state funds from children not “legally admitted” to the country.

“The illegal aliens who are plaintiffs in these cases challenging the statute may claim the benefit of the Equal Protection Clause, which provides that no State shall ‘deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,'” the court held. “Whatever his status under the immigration laws, an alien is a ‘person’ in any ordinary sense of that term.”

Not all constitutional protections apply to non-citizens. The 19th and 15th Amendments protecting the right to vote, for example, specifically apply to “citizens of the United States.” (RELATED: FACT CHECK: Are DACA Recipients All Young People Who Pose No Threat?)

It’s false to say, however, that illegal immigrants have no rights under the Constitution of the United States.

Peter Hasson

Follow Hasson on Twitter @PeterJHasson