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Do Non-Citizens have Constitutional Rights?

There is a misconception that the U.S. Constitution applies only to U.S. citizens. Some passages and phrases in our laws explicitly state only "citizens" are afforded certain rights, such as the right to vote. When the terms "resident" or "person" is used instead of citizen, the rights and privileges afforded are extended to protect citizens and non-citizens alike. Moreover, protections under the 14th Amendment ensure that no particular group is discriminated against unlawfully.

Bill of Rights

Nowhere in the first 10 amendments to the Constitution is the word "citizen." Often it is written "The right of the people..." The Bill of Rights protects everyone, including undocumented immigrants, to exercise free speech, religion, assembly, and to be free from unlawful government interference.

Criminal Court

Undocumented immigrants charged with a criminal offense have the same due process protections as everyone else, the right to a speedy and public trial by jury, the right against unlawful searches and seizures, and the right to an attorney among others. Status as a non-citizen in no way affects the procedure of a criminal trial, such as the burden of proof that the State must meet, or the presumption of innocence.

Immigration Court

Those facing deportation are involved in a civil lawsuit, but even then they are entitled to a hearing before an immigration judge, to be present at the hearing, to be represented by a lawyer, to put forth witnesses and defenses, and are afforded interpretation for non-English speakers. Any non-citizen can be placed in immigration proceedings, including long time permanent residents, and even former U.S. citizens whose citizenship is revoked. Our Constitution ensures that these procedures are handled fairly and in line with the law.

Unlawful Discrimination

The 14th Amendment ensures that "...nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." U.S. Const. amend. XIV (emphasis added).

One famous decision is the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case of Plyer v. Doe, in which Texas revised its laws to exclude the children of undocumented immigrants from being eligible to attend K-12 school. The Court held that the children of undocumented immigrants are "people" as stated in the 14th Amendment, and under the Equal Protection clause one's immigration status is not a sufficient rational basis for denying benefits afforded to other residents. Therefore, non-citizen children must be afforded a K-12 education.

If you or someone you know has been denied their constutitional rights, give the experienced attorneys at Saenz & Maniatis, PLLC a call today at (615) 366-1211. Hablamos Español.

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