194 U.S. 161 (1904), 691, United States v. Sing Tuck Or Do

Docket Nº:No. 691
Citation:194 U.S. 161, 24 S.Ct. 621, 48 L.Ed. 917
Party Name:United States v. Sing Tuck Or Do
Case Date:April 25, 1904
Court:United States Supreme Court

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194 U.S. 161 (1904)

24 S.Ct. 621, 48 L.Ed. 917

United States


Sing Tuck Or Do

No. 691

United States Supreme Court

April 25, 1904

Argued April 7, 1904




It is one of the necessities of the administration of justice that all questions, even though fundamental, should be determined in an orderly way, and it is within the power of Congress to require one asserting the right to enter this country on the ground that he is a citizen to establish his citizenship in some reasonable way.

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A mere allegation of citizenship by a person of Chinese descent is not sufficient to oust the inspector of jurisdiction under the alien immigrant law and allow a resort to the courts without taking the appeal to the Secretary provided for in the act, and unless such appeal has been taken and decided, a writ of habeas corpus will be denied.

The facts, which involved the right to enter the United States, of certain persons of Chinese descent who claimed to be citizens of the United States, are stated in the opinion of the Court.

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HOLMES, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a writ of habeas corpus against a Chinese inspector and inspector of immigration. It appears from his return that the Chinese persons concerned came from China by way of Canada, and were seeking admission into the United States. On examination by an inspector, five gave their names, stated that they were born in the United States (United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649), and answered no further questions. The rest gave their names and then stood mute, not even alleging citizenship. The inspector decided against their right to enter the country, and informed them of their right to appeal to the Secretary of Commerce and Labor. No appeal was taken, and while they were detained at a properly designated detention house for return to China, a petition was filed by a lawyer purporting to act on their behalf, alleging that they all were citizens of the United States, and this writ was obtained. In the circuit court, the detention was adjudged to be lawful, and the writ was dismissed without a trial on the merits. This decision was reversed by the circuit court of appeals on the ground that the parties concerned were entitled to a judicial investigation of their status.

By the Act of August 18, 1894, 28 Stat. 372, 390,

In every case where an alien is excluded from admission into the United States under any law or treaty now existing or hereafter made, the decision of the appropriate immigration or customs officers, if adverse to the admission of such alien, shall be final, unless

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reversed on appeal to the Secretary of the Treasury.

The jurisdiction of the Treasury Department was transferred to the Department of Commerce and Labor by the Act of February 14, 1903, 32 Stat. 825. It was held by the circuit court of appeals that the act of 1894 should not be construed to submit the right of a native-born citizen of the United States to return hither to the final determination of executive officers, and the conclusion was assumed to follow that these cases should have been tried on their merits. Before us it was argued that, by the construction of the statute, the fact of citizenship went to the jurisdiction of the immigration officers, see Gonzales v. Williams, 192 U.S. 1, 7; Miller v. Horton, 152 Mass. 540, 548, and therefore that the statute did not purport to apply to one who was a citizen in fact. We are of opinion, however, that the words quoted apply to a decision on the question of citizenship, and that, even if it be true that the statute could not make that decision final, the consequence drawn by the circuit court of appeals does not follow, and is not correct.

We shall not argue the meaning of the words of the act. That must be taken to be established. Lem Moon Sing v. United States, 158 U.S. 538, 546-547. As to whether or not the act could make the decision of an executive officer final upon the fact of citizenship, we leave the question where we find it. The Japanese Immigrant Case, 189 U.S. 86, 97; Fok Young Yo v. United States, 185 U.S. 296, 304-305. See Chin Bak Kan v. United States, 186 U.S. 193, 200. Whatever may be the law on that point, the decisions just cited are enough to show that it is too late to contend that the act of 1894 is void as a whole. But if the act is valid, even if ineffectual on this single point, then it points out a mode of procedure which must be followed before there can be a resort to the courts. In order to act at all, the executive officer must decide upon the question of citizenship. If his jurisdiction is subject to being upset, still it is necessary that he should proceed if he decides that it exists. An appeal is provided by the

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statute. The first mode of attacking his decision is by taking that appeal. If the appeal fails, it then is time enough [24 S.Ct. 623] to consider whether, upon a petition showing reasonable cause, there ought to be a further trial upon habeas corpus.

We perfectly appreciate, while we neither countenance nor discountenance, the argument drawn from the alleged want of jurisdiction. But while the consequence of that argument, if sound, is that both executive officers and Secretary of Commerce and Labor are acting without authority, it is one of the necessities of the administration of justice that even fundamental questions should be determined in an orderly way. If the allegations of a petition for habeas corpus setting up want of jurisdiction, whether of an executive officer or of an ordinary court, are true, the petitioner theoretically is entitled to his liberty at once. Yet a summary interruption of the regular order of proceedings, by means of the writ, is not always a matter of right. A familiar illustration is that of a person imprisoned upon criminal process by a state court, under a state law alleged to be unconstitutional. If the law is unconstitutional, the prisoner is wrongfully held. Yet, except under exceptional circumstances, the courts of the United States do not interfere by habeas corpus. The prisoner must, in the first place, take his case to the highest court of the state to which he can go, and after that he generally is left to the remedy by writ of error if he wishes to bring the case here. Minnesota v. Brundage, 180 U.S. 499; Baker v. Grice, 169 U.S. 284. In Gonzales v. Williams, 192 U.S. 1, there was no use in delaying the issue of the writ until an appeal had been taken, because in that case there was no dispute about the facts, but merely a question of law. Here, the issue, if there is one, is pure matter of fact -- a claim of citizenship under circumstances and in a form naturally raising a suspicion of fraud.

Considerations similar to those which we have suggested lead to a further conclusion. Whatever may be the ultimate rights of a person seeking to enter the country and alleging that he is a citizen, it is within the power of Congress to provide at

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least for a preliminary investigation by an inspector and for a detention of the person until he has established his citizenship in some reasonable way. If the person satisfies the inspector, he is allowed to enter the country without further trial. Now when these Chinese, having that opportunity, saw fit to refuse it, we think an additional reason was given for not allowing a habeas corpus at that stage. The detention during the time necessary for investigation was not unlawful, even if all these parties were citizens of the United States and were not attempting to upset the inspection machinery by a transparent device. Wong Wing v. United States, 163 U.S. 228, 235. They were offered a way to prove their alleged citizenship and to be set at large, which would be sufficient for most people who had a case, and which would relieve the courts. If they saw fit to refuse that way, they properly were held down strictly to their technical rights.

But it is said that if, under any circumstances, the question of citizenship could be left to the final decision of an executive officer, the Chinese regulations made under the statutes by the Department of Commerce and Labor are such that they do not allow a citizen due process of law, and the same argument is urged in favor of the right to decline to take any part in such proceedings from the outset. The rules objected to require the officer to prevent communication with the parties other than by officials under his control, and to have them examined promptly touching their right to admission. The examination is to be apart from the public, in the presence of the government officials and such witnesses only as the examining officer shall designate. This last is the provision especially stigmatized. It is said that the parties are allowed to produce only such witnesses as are designated by the officer. But that is a plain perversion of the meaning of the words. If the witnesses referred to are not merely witnesses to the examination, if they are witnesses in the cause, still the provision only excludes such witnesses at the discretion of the officer pending the examination of the party concerned -- a natural precaution in this class

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of cases, the reasonableness of which does not need to be explained. It is common in ordinary trials. No right is given to the officer to exercise any control or choice as to the witnesses to be heard, and no such choice was attempted in fact. On the contrary, the parties were told that, if they could produce two witnesses who knew that they had the right to enter, their testimony would be taken and carefully considered, and various other attempts were made to induce the suggestion of any evidence or help to establish the parties' case, but they stood mute. The separate examination is another reasonable...

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