A man wrongfully shot and killed by Mississippi police has no constitutional rights because he was an undocumented immigrant, according to the attorney for both the city of Southaven, Mississippi, and the police officer involved in the shooting. The deceased man, Mr. Lopez, lived in Southaven, Mississippi, with his wife. When police mistakenly arrived at Mr. Lopez’s house in response to a domestic violence call involving another individual, Mr. Lopez was shot and killed.
Recently, the attorneys for Mr. Lopez’s widow and estate filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Southaven and the police officer. The lawsuit alleges that Mr. Lopez’s right against unreasonable search and seizure and right to equal protection, as enumerated in the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, were violated. In response to the city attorney’s argument that Mr. Lopez has no constitutional rights, the widow’s attorneys stated that Mr. Lopez’s undocumented immigrant status did not exclude him from the protection of certain constitutional rights.
“Mr. Lopez’s case speaks to today’s topics of national security, immigration law, and the treatment of undocumented immigrants within our nation’s borders,” says immigration attorney Jim Hacking of Hacking Law Practice, LLC. “But, to argue the questions of today, it is essential to look at the decisions of the past. What is our nation’s history in dealing with undocumented immigrants and constitutional rights?”
The third clause of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees any person within the jurisdiction of the United States the equal protection of the laws. As far back as 1886, the United States Supreme Court in Yick Wo v. Hopkins defined persons entitled to equal protection to include non-citizens within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States. Nearly 100 years later, in Plyler v. Doe, undocumented immigrants were offered equal protection of the laws. The United States Supreme Court, in Plyler v. Doe, ruled the state of Texas’ attempt to deny undocumented immigrant children the right to attend public school violated their Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection.
The Fourth Amendment states, in part, that it is the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. Again, “people” has been defined to include undocumented immigrants. However, the courts have not been clear on the scope of this right, as it applies to undocumented immigrants. Furthermore, immigration laws place limits on immigrants’ Fourth Amendment rights. For example, the 100-mile radius caveat allows searches and seizures within a 100-mile radius of the nation’s borders.
Other constitutional rights are limited due to undocumented immigrants’ status. For example, regarding the right to counsel, undocumented immigrants can be arrested and detained — and the government is not required to provide them legal counsel, because deportation hearings are civil in nature.
While the groundwork has been laid for undocumented immigrants to be offered the protection of certain constitutional rights, the law lacks clarity regarding the scope and application of others. Moving forward, the rights of undocumented immigrants will continue to take shape as cases like Mr. Lopez’s are decided.