Fiallo v. Bell

Decision Date26 April 1977
Docket NumberNo. 75-6297,75-6297
Citation52 L.Ed.2d 50,97 S.Ct. 1473,430 U.S. 787
PartiesRamon Martin FIALLO, etc., et al., Appellants, v. Griffin B. BELL, Individually and as Attorney General of the United States, et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Sections 101(b)(1)(D) and 101(b)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which have the effect of excluding the relationship between an illegitimate child and his natural father (as opposed to his natural mother) from the special preference immigration status accorded by the Act to the "child" or "parent" of a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident, held not to be unconstitutional. Pp. 792-800.

(a) This Court's cases "have long recognized the power to expel or exclude aliens as a fundamental sovereign attribute exercised by the Government's political departments largely immune from judicial control," Shaughnessy v. Mezei, 345 U.S. 206, 210, 73 S.Ct. 625, 628, 97 L.Ed. 956; see also Kleindienst v. Mandel, 408 U.S. 753, 92 S.Ct. 2576, 33 L.Ed.2d 683; Harisiades v. Shaughnessy, 342 U.S. 580, 588-589, 72 S.Ct. 512, 518-519, 96 L.Ed. 586, and no factors exist in the instant case warranting a more searching judicial scrutiny than has generally been applied in immigration cases. Pp. 792-796.

(b) In enacting the challenged statutory provisions Congress was specifically concerned with clarifying the previous law so that the illegitimate child in relation to his mother would have the same status as a legitimate child, and the legislative history of those provisions reflects an intentional choice not to provide preferential immigration status by virtue of the relationship between an illegitimate child and his natural father. The distinction is one of many (such as those based on age) drawn by Congress pursuant to its determination to provide some but not all families with relief from various immigration restrictions that would otherwise hinder reunification of the family in this country. The decision as to where to draw the line is a policy question within Congress' exclusive province. Pp. 797-798.

(c) Whether Congress' determination that preferential status is not warranted for illegitimate children and their natural fathers results from a perceived absence in most cases of close family ties or a concern with serious problems of proof that usually lurk in paternity determinations, it is not for the courts to probe and test the justifications for the legislative decision. Kleindienst v. Mandel, supra, 408 U.S. at 770, 92 S.Ct. at 2585. Pp. 798-799.

406 F.Supp. 162, affirmed.

Janet M. Calvo, New York City, for appellants, pro hac vice, by special leave of Court.

Harold R. Tyler, Jr., New York City, for appellees.

Mr. Justice POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case brings before us a constitutional challenge to §§ 101(b)(1)(D) and 101(b)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (Act), 66 Stat. 182, as amended, 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101(b)(1)(D) and 1101(b)(2).

I

The Act grants special preference immigration status to aliens who qualify as the "children" or "parents" of United States citizens or lawful permanent residents. Under § 101(b)(1), a "child" is defined as an unmarried person under 21 years of age who is a legitimate or legitimated child, a stepchild, an adopted child, or an illegitimate child seeking preference by virtue of his relationship with his natural mother.1 The definition does not extend to an illegitimate child seeking preference by virtue of his relationship with his natural father. Moreover, under § 101(b)(2), a person qualifies as a "parent" for purposes of the Act solely on the basis of the person's relationship with a "child." As a result, the natural father of an illegitimate child who is either a United States citizen or permanent resident alien is not entitled to preferential treatment as a "parent."

The special preference immigration status provided for those who satisfy the statutory "parent-child" relationship depends on whether the immigrant's relative is a United States citizen or permanent resident alien. A United States citizen is allowed the entry of his "parent" or "child" without regard to either an applicable numerical quota or the labor certification requirement. 8 U.S.C. §§ 1151(a), (b), 1182(a)(14). On the other hand, a United States permanent resident alien is allowed the entry of the "parent" or "child" subject to numerical limitations but without regard to the labor certifi- cation requirement. 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(14); see 1 C. Gordon & H. Rosenfield, Immigration Law and Procedure § 2.40 n. 18 (rev. ed. 1975).2

Appellants are three sets of unwed natural fathers and their illegitimate offspring who sought, either as an alien father or an alien child, a special immigration preference by virtue of a relationship to a citizen or resident alien child or parent. In each instance the applicant was informed that he was ineligible for an immigrant visa unless he qualified for admission under the general numerical limitations and, in the case of the alien parents, received the requisite labor certification.3 Appellants filed this action in July 1974 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York challenging the constitutionality of §§ 101(b)(1) and 101(b)(2) of the Act under the First, Fifth, and Ninth Amendments. Appellants alleged that the statutory provisions (i) denied them equal protection by discriminating against natural fathers and their illegitimate children "on the basis of the father's marital status, the illegitimacy of the child and the sex of the parent without either compelling or rational justification"; (ii) denied them due process of law to the extent that there was established "an unwarranted conclusive presumption of the absence of strong psychological and economic ties between natural fathers and their children born out of wedlock and not legitimated"; and (iii) "seriously burden(ed) and infringe(d) upon the rights of natural fathers and their children, born out of wedlock and not legitimated, to mutual association, to privacy, to establish a home, to raise natural children and to be raised by the natural father." App. 11-12. Appellants sought to enjoin permanently enforcement of the challenged statutory provisions to the extent that the statute precluded them from qualifying for the special preference accorded other "parents" and "children."

A three-judge District Court was convened to consider the constitutional issues. After noting that Congress' power to fashion rules for the admission of aliens was "exceptionally broad," the District Court held, with one judge dissenting, that the statutory provisions at issue were neither "wholly devoid of any conceivable rational purpose" nor "fundamentally aimed at achieving a goal unrelated to the regulation of immigration". Fiallo v. Levi, 406 F.Supp. 162, 165, 166 (D.C.N.Y. 1975). The court therefore granted judgment for the Government and dismissed the action.

We noted probable jurisdiction sub nom. Fiallo v. Levi, 426 U.S. 919, 96 S.Ct. 2622, 49 L.Ed.2d 371 (1976), and for the reasons set forth below we affirm.

II

At the outset, it is important to underscore the limited scope of judicial inquiry into immigration legislation. This Court has repeatedly emphasized that "over no conceivable subject is the legislative power of Congress more complete than it is over" the admission of aliens. Oceanic Navigation Co. v. Stranahan, 214 U.S. 320, 339, 29 S.Ct. 671, 676, 53 L.Ed. 1013 (1909); accord, Kleindienst v. Mandel, 408 U.S. 753, 766, 92 S.Ct. 2576, 2583, 33 L.Ed.2d 683 (1972). Our cases "have long recognized the power to expel or exclude aliens as a fundamental sovereign attribute exercised by the Government's political departments largely immune from judicial control." Shaughnessy v. Mezei, 345 U.S. 206, 210, 73 S.Ct. 625, 628, 97 L.Ed. 956 (1953); see, e. g., Harisiades v. Shaughnessy, 342 U.S. 580, 72 S.Ct. 512, 96 L.Ed. 586 (1952); Lem Moon Sing v. United States, 158 U.S. 538, 15 S.Ct. 967, 39 L.Ed. 1082 (1895); Fong Yue Ting v. United States, 149 U.S. 698, 13 S.Ct. 1016, 37 L.Ed. 905 (1893); The Chinese Exclusion Case, 130 U.S. 581, 9 S.Ct. 623, 32 L.Ed. 1068 (1889). Our recent decisions have not departed from this long-established rule. Just last Term, for example, the Court had occasion to note that "the power over aliens is of a political character and therefore subject only to narrow judicial review." Hampton v. Mow Sun Wong, 426 U.S. 88, 101 n. 21, 96 S.Ct. 1895, 1904-1905, 48 L.Ed.2d 495 (1976), citing Fong Yue Ting v. United States, supra, at 713, 13 S.Ct., at 1022; accord, Mathews v. Diaz, 426 U.S. 67, 81-82, 96 S.Ct. 1883, 1892, 48 L.Ed.2d 478 (1976). And we observed recently that in the exercise of its broad power over immigration and naturalization, "Congress regularly makes rules that would be unacceptable if applied to citizens." Id., at 80, 96 S.Ct., at 1891.4 Appellants apparently do not challenge the need for special judicial deference to congressional policy choices in the immigration context,5 but instead suggest that a "unique coalescing of factors" makes the instant case sufficiently unlike prior immigration cases to warrant more searching judicial scrutiny. Brief for Appellants 52-55. Appellants first observe that since the statutory provisions were designed to reunite families wherever possible, the purpose of the statute was to afford rights not to aliens but to United States citizens and legal permanent residents. Appellants then rely on our border-search decisions in Almeida-Sanchez v. United States, 413 U.S. 266, 93 S.Ct. 2535, 37 L.Ed.2d 596 (1973), and United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 95 S.Ct. 2574, 45 L.Ed.2d 607 (1975), for the proposition that the courts must scrutinize congressional legislation in the immigration area to protect against violations of the rights of citizens. At issue in the border-search cases, however, was the nature of the protections...

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