Islamic Law in U.S. Courts: United States v. Wong Chung (N.D.N.Y. 1899): Immigration Decision

Holding: In a judicial proceeding to determine whether a defendant should be denied entry to the United States, the court is not bound by the decision of a U.S. customs officer or collector. Rather, it must investigate and weigh the evidence offered by both parties, including any visas or certificates from defendant refuting evidence from the government.

Procedural posture: United States commissioner ordered defendant, a Chinese immigrant with a student visa, deported from the U.S., based on a decision of the deputy collector at the port where defendant had tried to enter the country. Defendant appealed. Islamic law is not directly relevant, except that the Court notes that some of the alleged evidence on which the deputy collector based his decision was so intangible that “the collector could have justified his course as well by asserting . . . that it was supported by the revelations of the Koran.”

Judgment: Reversed and remanded in an opinion authored by Judge Coxe.

Facts: The defendant applied for admission to the United States at the port of Malone, NY, on Oct. 13, 1884, with a valid certificate permitting him to enter as a student. The deputy collector at Malone initially found the defendant’s papers to be valid. However, two days later, he met a Mr. Clemenshire in New York, who said that the people at the address at which the defendant said he would be staying in the U.S. knew nothing about the defendant and that the defendant was actually going to work “in laundry” in Connecticut. The deputy collector then telegraphed the port to have the defendant returned to Montreal. At the defendant’s deportation hearing, the commissioner ordered the defendant deported after finding the deputy collector’s decision final and controlling.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York found that the defendant had not received a fair hearing. It found that the collector’s action “was based upon an irrelevant rumor,” because Mr. Clemenshire’s information was “conjecture.” Having previously believed the defendant’s papers to be valid, the collector’s subsequent decision was not based on valid statutory grounds. Furthermore, the commissioner was not barred from investigating and deciding the case on the merits; he had a duty to determine the status of the defendant by investigating the entry certificate and any contrary proof a customs officer might introduce. Therefore, the decision was reversed and remanded for the commissioner to reconsider based on the evidence offered by each party.

Read the case.