A question commonly raised is whether undocumented immigrants have the same rights as American citizens. Basedon decisions by the United States Supreme Court, it is clear that when it comes to recovery for damages for injuries sustained in accidents, medical malpractice, and police brutality,
undocumented immigrants have the same rights as citizens when it comes to recovering damages.
Over the years, the Supreme Court has faced the issue of what status undocumented immigrants occupy in the United States. Significantly, although the facts have changed, the outcome rarely differs. In 1886, in Yick Wo v. Hopkins, the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment is applied to all persons, without regard to race, color, or nationality. In other words, the Amendment did not confine its protection to only citizens, but also to any undocumented immigrants that entered the
country. Ten years later in 1896, the Supreme Court in Wong Wing v. U.S. held that the decision in Yick Wo could be extended to the Fifth and Sixth Amendments as well, applying that Amendment to all persons on United States soil.
In Plyer v. Doe in 1892, the Court held that illegal aliens may claim the benefit of the Equal Protection Clause, whatever his or her immigration status . The Court said that an alien is still a “person” in the sense of the term, and that immigration status is not sufficient rational basis to deny benefits and
rights other residents are given.
Finally, and most recently, in 2001, the Court held in Zadvydas v. Davis that “once an alien enters the country, the legal circumstances changes, for the due process clause applies to all persons within the United States.” What does remain crystal clear is that Supreme Court precedent holds that undocumented immigrants, just as citizens, are afforded Equal Protection under the law, and have the same rights as American citizens when it comes to collecting damages for injuries.
*Sanford Rubenstein, Esq. is a well-known Civil Rights Lawyer from the Law Office of Rubenstein & Rynecki, and can be reached for a free legal consultation in matters involving injuries at (718) 522-1020
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