Does The Fourth Amendment Protect Illegal Immigrants?

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects citizens against unlawful searches and seizures, but what about people who are currently immigrating to this country or even here illegally? Are they protected against unreasonable searches too?

The Fourth Amendment reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

As stated in the first sentence, it is people who are protected under this Amendment and not always citizens. In a case that was decided in 1990 by the United States Supreme Court (See US v. Verdugo-Urquidez 494 US 259), the Court stated that that undocumented immigrants living voluntarily in the United States “have accepted some societal obligations” and thus possess Fourth Amendment rights.

However, in somewhat of a contrast, there are instances when the police can stop someone based on race or ethnicity. To be clear, stops by the police based solely on race or ethnicity are not permitted. Stopping or detaining someone because of their skin color is commonly referred to as “racial profiling” and it is illegal. The police may stop someone based upon “racial incongruity” or in other words, if the presence of a person of a particular race or ethnic group is in a neighborhood where such a group is not ordinarily found, it may be a legitimate factor in evaluating the lawfulness of a stop.

Searches At The Border

A routine border search without a warrant is deemed to be reasonable for a brief search of a person and their belongings. When not at an international border, roaming border patrol agents may not detain a person in a vehicle even briefly for questioning in the absence of reasonable suspicion of illegal presence in the country or other illegal activity. Only when there is information about illegal border crossings in the area, strange behavior by the occupants, or evidence of an extraordinary number of passengers in a vehicle which can justify a brief seizure in order to determine whether or not the occupants are illegal aliens.

In sum, the Fourth Amendment offers protections to US citizens and people who wish to remain in the United States. Only in a few narrow circumstances can a person be detained regardless of race or ethnicity.

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