United States v. Mendoza

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: Board of Immigration Appeals

DOCKET NO.: 82-849
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 464 US 154 (1984)
ARGUED: Nov 02, 1983
DECIDED: Jan 10, 1984

Donald L. Ungar - on behalf of Respondent
Kenneth Steven Geller - on behalf of Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Mendoza

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 02, 1983 in United States v. Mendoza

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in United States against Mendoza.

Mr. Geller, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Kenneth Steven Geller:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case was brought by Respondent Mendoza in 1978 in an effort to become a naturalized American citizen.

It's undisputed that Respondent is not entitled to naturalization under any provision of the immigration laws that are now in effect.

It's also undisputed that the Immigration and Nationality Act expressly provides that an alien may not be naturalized under any expired provision of law.

Now, despite these seemingly insurmountable barriers to Respondent's naturalization, the district court granted that relief and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The lower courts held that the United States was collaterally estopped to oppose Respondent's naturalization because the constitutional argument presented by Respondent in support of his claim for citizenship had been decided adversely to the United States in a prior district court case involving other unrelated aliens.

And we've sought certiorari to challenge this unprecedented and we believe quite destructive application of collateral estoppel on an issue of law.

Now, the Court is familiar with the background of this case because it confronted essentially an identical situation in INS versus Hibi, which was decided in 1973.

The case relates to events that occurred in the Philippines during the end of World War Two.

Briefly, in 1942 Congress passed the Second War Powers Act.

Section 701 of that Act made it easier for aliens serving honorably in the United States Armed Forces to become American citizens, and Section 702 of that Act provided for the overseas naturalization of aliens who are eligible for citizenship under Section 701.

Now, naturalizations under Section 702 obviously were not possible in the Philippines until 1945, when the Japanese occupation ended.

And in August 1945 the INS sent a designated naturalization examiner to the Philippines to begin performing naturalizations under Section 701 and 702.

Warren E. Burger:

Did the Act require the United States to send examiners outside the continental limits for this purpose?

Kenneth Steven Geller:

Section 702 contemplated that naturalizations would take place overseas.

Warren E. Burger:

And you maintain that it was required that the United States do that under the Act, not permitted but required?

Kenneth Steven Geller:

Yes, although Section 705 of the Act gave the Attorney General tremendous discretion in how to implement the Act, and this Court held that in Hibi.

Almost immediately upon the designated naturalization examiner's arrival in the Philippines in August 1945, the Philippine Government objected.

It was concerned that a large number of young Filipino men, perhaps as many as 250,000, would seek to become American citizens under this provision and leave for the United States on the even of Philippine independence, which was then scheduled for July 1946.

In response to this diplomatic complaint, Attorney General Tom Clarke, in consultation with the INS and the Department of State, revoked the authority of the naturalization examiner under Section 701 and 702 and naturalization ceased in the Philippines under these provisions around the end of October 1945.

The authority of the naturalization examiner was reinstated nine months later in August of 1946 and naturalizations began once again in the Philippines and continued until December 1946, when Sections 701 and 702 expired by their own terms.

Now, Hibi, as the Court will recall, was a case brought by a Filipino veteran who did not seek naturalization under Section 701 and 702 until 1967, 20 years after those provisions had expired.

But Hibi claimed that the United States was equitably estopped from relying on the expiration date of those statutes because of the Government's failure to station a naturalization examiner in the Philippines for the nine-month period between October 1945 and August 1946.

The Ninth Circuit agreed with that argument and held that the United States was equitably estopped.

But this Court summarily reversed.

The Court held that the Federal Government could not be estopped from enforcing the immigration laws passed by Congress, except perhaps if it had engaged in some affirmative Government misconduct.

But the Court quickly added that the Government had not engaged in any affirmative misconduct in the way it had administered Section 701 and 702 in the Philippines, including by not having a naturalization examiner there for the nine-month period that's crucial to these cases.

Not long after Hibi was decided, a new group of Filipino veterans brought suit to try to obtain American citizenship under Sections 701 and 702.