Immigrant Rights Are Civil Rights: Mexican Immigrants and the US Supreme Court, 1964–73

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 10:30 AM
Continental B (Hilton Chicago)
Maggie J. Elmore, University of Notre Dame
“Immigrant Rights are Civil Rights” examines the efforts of Mexican immigrants to claim greater civil rights through the courts beginning in the 1970s. In Espinoza v. Farah Garments (1972), documented immigrants attempted to use Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to defend themselves against employment discrimination based on citizenship status. The question before the Court was whether or not alienage represented a protected class under Title VII. In other words, could private employers deny employment to potential employees on the basis of their citizenship status? What sorts of civil rights protections were immigrants entitled to? Justice Thurgood Marshall, the former head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Legal Defense Fund who had argued Brown v. Board in 1954, delivered the majority opinion in 1973, siding with Farah Garments. The case brought into sharp relief the question of who should benefit from civil rights legislation. The Espinoza decision demonstrated the limits of civil rights legislation as it applied to documented immigrants. Without immigration reform, Mexican immigrants lacked equal protection under the law--regardless of their residency status. This paper draws evidence from oral histories, correspondence between the Supreme Court Justices, and briefs filed in support of the plaintiffs. It departs from standard civil rights narratives to demonstrate one of the many ways in which race and citizenship status became legally intertwined.
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