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News Posted on March 29, 2017

Dean Johnson Serves as Panelist for Salon Immigration ‘Debate’

Dean Kevin R. Johnson served as an expert panelist for a Salon discussion of immigrant rights, presidential powers, and the history of immigration law in the United States.  Dean Johnson, together with Professor John S. Park of UC Santa Barbara and Professor David Brotherton of City University of New York, gave detailed answers regarding the constitutional rights of immigrants, the plenary powers doctrine, and the continuing impacts of President Clinton's 1996 immigration reform.

“The protections of the U.S. Constitution extend to all persons, including all immigrants, physically present in the United States,” Dean Johnson said regarding immigrants’ rights. “The Fifth and Fourth Amendments prevent both federal and state governments from depriving any person of ‘life, liberty, or property without due process of law.’ ‘Liberty’ includes, but is not limited to, freedom from detention and freedom from removal from the United States.”

Under the plenary powers doctrine, courts usually have deferred to Congress and the president with regard to immigration, with the result that the Supreme Court has upheld the Chinese Exclusion Act and other discriminatory immigration laws. The Supreme Court would be unlikely to uphold similar laws today, Dean Johnson said.

“The reason: The antiquated Chinese Exclusion Case is out of synch with the Supreme Court’s modern constitutional jurisprudence,” Dean Johnson said. “One would think that minimal rationality review of U.S. government action with respect to immigration would be more consistent with modern constitutional sensibilities than the immunity from judicial review bestowed by the plenary power doctrine.”

In the second installment of the Salon discussion, Dean Johnson talked about how the 1996 immigration reform expanded crime-based removals, which has meant that racial disparities in the justice system have been reflected in the disproportionate number of removals of Latinos.

"The U.S. criminal justice system is notorious for producing racially disparate results," Dean Johnson said. "African Americans and Latinos continue to be disproportionately arrested and incarcerated as they have been throughout U.S. history...Consequently, increases in crime-based removals under President Obama resulted in the removal of a disproportionate number of Latino immigrants. Today, more than 95 percent of removals in the United States are of Latino noncitizens, despite the fact that the total immigrant population in the United States is much more diverse. Latino immigrants comprise only about 50 percent of lawful immigrants, and around 70 percent of undocumented ones."

Kevin R. Johnson is Dean and Mabie-Apallas Professor of Public Interest Law and Chicana/o studies at UC Davis School of Law. He is an internationally recognized scholar in the fields of immigration law and policy, refugee law, and civil rights.