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Chae Chan Ping v. United States (130 U.S. 581)

*I am working my way through key cases of Immigration Law. These cases are historical and may or may not apply current legal standards or present legal theory.


Chae Chan Ping v. United States, 130 U.S. 581 (1889)

Key Facts:

Chae Chan Ping (hereinafter Ping) was a Chinese laborer living in San Francisco from 1875 until 1887 (12 yrs). He was formally a citizen of China and did not have dual citizenship.

Note he arrived before 1882 (when the laws changed)

On June 2, 1887, Ping returned to China for a brief time. He carried with him a certificate authorizing him to return to the United States, valid under the standing laws of the time (Act of 1882) and issued by the proper port authorities.

Ping attempted to return to the US on October 8, 1888 (1 yr, 5 mths) and presented his certificate to the proper authorities.

The port authority refused Ping entrance to the US on the grounds that Congress had approved a new act on October 1, 1888. The authorities argued this new act annulled the certificate and that Ping no longer had proper re-entry authorization.

The steamboat captain promptly held Ping on board the steamboat against his will.

Initial Ruling:

The circuit court for the Northern District of California held that Ping was not authorized to re-enter the United States and was not unlawfully restrained of his liberty.

Key Issues on Appeal:


Arguments & Decisions

Treaties are not inviolable where events arise calling for a change in national policy. Treaties can be modified, enforced or repealed through an Act of Congress.

Decision 1

Jurisdiction over its own territory such that aliens can be prohibited entry is a right of an independent nation as a matter of national sovereignty as established in the constitution.

Decision 2

Permissions or licenses to enter the US are only valid at the government’s will and are revocable at any time.

Decision 3

The court ultimately held that the Act of 1888 was valid. Whether the laws should have been worded more carefully to address persons like Ping was a matter for the legislative branch – it was not for the court to criticize the wording of the laws.

Final Decision:

Under the law as it stood, Ping had no right of re-entry.

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