142 U.S. 651 (1892), Nishimura Ekiu v. U.s.

Citation:142 U.S. 651, 12 S.Ct. 336, 35 L.Ed. 1146
Case Date:January 18, 1892
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 651

142 U.S. 651 (1892)

12 S.Ct. 336, 35 L.Ed. 1146




United States Supreme Court.

January 18, 1892

Appeal from the circuit court of the United States for the northern district of California. Affirmed.


Habeas corpus, sued out May 13, 1891, by a female subject of the emperor of Japan, restrained of her liberty and detained at San Francisco upon the ground that she should not be permitted to land in the United States. The case, as appearing by the papers filed, and by the report of a commissioner of the circuit court, to whom the case was referred by that court 'to find the facts and his conclusions of law, and to report a judgment therein,' and by the admissions of counsel at the argument in this court, was as follows:

The petitioner arrived at the port of San Francisco on the steamship Belgic, from Yokohama, Japan, on May 7, 1891. William H. Thornley, commissioner of immigration of the state of California, and claiming to act under instructions from and contract with the secretary of the treasury of the United States, refused to allow her to land; and on May 13, 1891, in a 'report of alien immigrants forbidden to land under the provisions of the act of congress approved August 3, 1882, at the port of San Francisco, being passengers upon the steamer Belgic, Walker, master, which arrived May 7, 1891, from Yokohama,' made these statements as to the petitioner: 'Sex, female; age, 25.' 'Passport states that she comes to San Francisco in company with her husband, which is not a fact. She states that she has been married two years, and that her husband has been in the United States one year, but she does not know his address. She has $22, and is to stop at some hotel until her husband calls for her.'

With this report Thornley sent a letter to the collector, stating that after a careful examination of the alien immigrants on board the Belgic he was satisfied that the petitioner and five others were 'prohibited from landing by the existing immigration laws,' for reasons specifically stated with regard to each; and that, pending the collector's final decision as to their right to land, he had 'placed them temporarily in the Methodist Chinese Mission, as the steamer was not a proper place to detain them, until the date of sailing.' On the same day the collector wrote to Thornley, approving his action.

Thereafter, on the same day, this writ of habeas corpus was issued to Thornley, and he made the following return thereon: 'In obedience to the within writ I hereby produce the body of Nishimura Ekiu, as within directed, and return that I hold her in my custody by direction of the customs authorities of the port of San Francisco, Cal., under the provisions of the immigration act; that, by an understanding between the United States attorney and the attorney for petitioner, said party will remain in the custody of the Methodist Episcopal Japanese and Chiness Mission pending a final disposition of the writ.' The petitioner remained at the mission-house until the final order of the circuit court.

Afterwards, and before a hearing, the following proceedings took place: On May 16th the district attorney of the United States intervened in opposition to the writ of habeas corpus, insisting that the finding and decision of Thoruley and the collector were final and conclusive, and [12 S.Ct. 337] could not be reviewed by the court. John L. Hatch, having been appointed on May 14, by the secretary of the treasury, inspector of immigration at the port of San Francisco, on May 16th made the inspection and examination required by the act of March 3, 1891, c. 551, entitled 'An act in amendment to the various acts relative to immigration and the importation of aliens under contract or agreement to perform labor,' (the material provisions of which are set out in the margin, [1] ) and refused to allow the petitioner to land, and made a report to the collector in the very words of Thornley's report, except in stating the date of the act of congress, under which he acted, as March 3, 1891, instead of August 3, 1882; and, on May 18th, Hatch intervened in opposition to the writ ofhabeas corpus, stating these doings of his, and that upon said examination he found the petitioner to be 'an alien immigrant from Yokohama, empire of Japan,' and 'a person without means of support, without relatives or friends in the United States,' and [12 S.Ct. 338] "a person unable to care for herself, and liable to become a public charge,and therefore inhibited from landing under the provisions of said act of 1891, and previous acts of which said act is amendatory:" and insisting that his finding and decison were reviewable by the superintendent of immigration and the secretary of the treasury only.

At the hearing before the commissioner of the circuit court, the petitioner offered to introduce evidence as to her right to land; and contended that the act of 1891, if construed as vesting in the officers named therein exclusive authority to determine that right, was in so far unconstitutional, as depriving her of her liberty without due process of law; and that by the constitution she had a right to the writ of habeas corpus, which carried with it the right to a determination by the court as to the legality of her detention, and therefore, necessarily, the right to inquire into the facts relating thereto.

The commissioner excluded the evidence offered as to the petitioner's right to land; and reported that the question of that right had been tried and determined by a duly-constituted and competent tribunal having jurisdiction in the premises; that the decision of Hatch, as inspector of immigration, was conclusive on the right of the petitioner to land, and could not be reviewed by the court, but only by the commissioner of immigration and the secretary of the treasury; and that the petitioner was not unlawfully restrained of her liberty.

On July 24, 1891, the circuit court confirmed its commissioner's report, and ordered 'that she be remanded by the marshal to the custody from which she has been taken, to-wit, to the custody of J. L. Hatch, immigration inspector for the port of San Francisco, to be dealt with as he may find that the law requires, upon either the present testimony before him, or that and such other as he may deem proper to take.' The petitioner appealed to this court.


Page 657

Lyman I. Mowry, for appellant.

Page 658

Asst. Atty. Gen. Parket, for the United States.


Mr. Justice GRAY, after stating the case as above, delivered the opinion of the court.

As this case involves the constitutionality of a law of the United States, it is within the appellate jurisdiction of this

Page 659

court, notwithstanding the appeal was taken since the act establishing circuit courts of appeals took effect. Act March 3, 1891, c. 517, § 5, (26 St. 827, 828, 1115.)

It is an accepted maxim of international law that every sovereign nation has the power, as inherent in sovereignty, and essential to self-preservation, to forbid the entrance of foreigners within its dominions, or to admit them only in such cases and upon such conditions as it may see fit to prescribe. Vat. Law Nat. lib. 2, §§ 94, 100; 1 Phillim. Int. Law, (3d Ed.) c. 10, § 220. In the United States this power is vested in the national government, to which the constitution has committed the entire control of international relations, in peace as well as in war. It belongs to the political department of the government, and may be exercised either through treaties made by the president and senate, or through statutes enacted by congress, upon whom the constitution has conferred power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, including the entrance of ships, the importation of goods, and the bringing of persons into the ports of the United States; to establish a uniform rule of naturalization; to declare war, and to provide and maintain armies and navies; and to make all laws which may be necessary and proper for carrying into effect these powers and all other powers vested by the constitution in the government of the United States,...

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