Shaughnessey v. United States ex rel. Mezei, 345 U.S. 206 (1953)

2012-09-03 20:44:34

Mezei was a legal permanent resident in the United States for twenty-five years when he left to visit his dying mother in Romania. When he returned to the United States, Mezei was temporarily excluded under the Passport Bill, 22 U.S.C. 223, and then permanently excluded from the country, without a hearing and based on secret evidence. Mezei was considered a threat to national security because he had gone behind the Iron Curtain and had been out of the country for nineteen months. He was indefinitely detained at Ellis Island while the United States refused to admit him, because no other country he applied to would accept him.

Mezei applied for a writ of habeas corpus, which the Supreme Court ultimately denied. The Supreme Court held that legal permanent residents who have left the country for a significant amount of time do not have procedural due process rights. Mezei was treated as an arriving alien rather than a deported alien, and thus the court interpreted his case as an exclusion proceeding. Mezei’s holding at Ellis Island gave him no rights, because legal territorial fiction defined him as outside of the country. The Supreme Court denied Mezei habeas corpus and denied him admittance to the United States.

Shaughnessy v. United States ex rel. Mezei is one of the most famous and fought over cases in immigration law, and is one of a trilogy of post-World War II security cases, including Kwong Hai Chew v. Colding and Knauff v. Shaughnessy. These three cases are among the most important modern cases defining the procedural due process rights of aliens.


References and Further Reading

  • Aleinikoff, Thomas Alexander, David A.Martin, andHiroshi Motomura. Immigration and Citizenship: Process and Policy. St. Paul,MN: West, 2003, pp. 460–472.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Kwong Hai Chew v. Colding, 344 U.S. 590 (1953)
  • Knauff v. Shaughnessy, 338 U.S. 537 (1950)

See also Aliens, Civil Liberties of; Alien and Sedition Act (1798); Chae Chan Ping v. U.S., 130 U.S. 581 (1889) and Chinese Exclusion Act; COMMUNISM AND THE COLD WAR; Due Process in Immigration; Habeas Corpus: Modern History; Harisiades v. Shaughnessy, 342 U.S. 580 (1952); Noncitizens and Civil Liberties