Fourth Circuit to Decide Constitutionality of Federal Law on Illegal Reentry

In the case of U.S. v. Sanchez-Garcia, a panel in the Fourth Circuit will determine whether the federal law criminalizing illegal reentries into the United States violates the Fifth Amendment.

The Argument: Discriminatory Intent

Attorney Mireille Clough, representing six defendants convicted of illegal reentry in a North Carolina federal court, asserted that the law has a discriminatory intent rooted in past racism against Latin American immigrants.

According to the defendants' brief, multiple experts testified that the 1929 law, which first made it illegal to re-enter the United States after deportation, was conceived during a period when immigration law was influenced by overt racism. Legislators at the time were motivated by racial animus.

The lower court did not dispute this point but ruled that the intent of racial animus had diminished over time in favor of other, more legitimate factors.

The Challenge: Law Revisions and Racial Animus

Clough argued that the specific section of law concerning illegal reentry, Section 1326 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, has seen only minor revisions over the years. She further contended that the law's racial animus had never been properly addressed.

Clough pointed out that since its enactment, the enforcement of Section 1326 has disproportionately affected Mexican and Latin American immigrants and their families, who continue to be impacted by the racial animus behind its original enactment in 1929 and subsequent revisions in 1952 and beyond.

Counterarguments and Skepticism

U.S. Circuit Judge Pamela Harris expressed skepticism about the argument, noting that the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 represented a significant overhaul of the country's immigration system. She questioned whether the act could be considered merely a reenactment of a particular enforcement statute from 1929.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Morgan Reece supported this view, asserting that the 1952 law repealed the 1920s law and introduced an entirely new statutory framework.

Reece also argued that comments made by legislators who sponsored the 1952 law were not relevant to the specific statute on illegal reentries and that they did not represent Congressional intent.

U.S. Circuit Judge Albert Diaz, however, pushed back, suggesting that these comments and provisions related to immigration's impact on certain groups of people should not be ignored.

The case will ultimately address whether the law's historical connection to racial animus still taints its constitutionality and whether revisions and subsequent enactments have effectively addressed this issue.