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decided: June 1, 1909.



Author: White

[ 214 U.S. Page 329]

 MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the court.

The steamship company sought the recovery of money paid to the collector of customs of the port of New York which was exacted by that official under an order of the Secretary of Commerce and Labor. The findings of the court, the case by stipulation having been tried without a jury, leave no doubt that the money was paid to the collector under protest, and involuntarily. We say this because the findings establish that the company was coerced by the certainty that if it did not pay the collector would refuse a clearance to its steamships plying between New York city and foreign ports at periodical and definite sailings, whose failure to depart on time would have caused not only grave public inconvenience from the non-fulfillment of mail contracts, but besides would have entailed upon the company the most serious pecuniary loss consequent on its failure to carry out many other contracts.

Both the Secretary and the collector were expressly authorized by law, the one to impose and the other to collect the exactions which were made. The only question, therefore, is whether the power conferred upon the named officials was consistent with the Constitution. The provision under which the officials acted is § 9 of the act of March 3, 1903, entitled, "An Act

[ 214 U.S. Page 330]

     to regulate the immigration of aliens into the United States." c. 1012, 32 Stat. 1213. Light to guide in an analysis of the contentions concerning the asserted repugnancy of the section to the Constitution will be afforded by giving at once the merest outline of some of the comprehensive provisions of the act of which it forms a part.

The act excludes from admission into the United States, among other classes, those afflicted "with loathsome or with dangerous contagious diseases." § 2. It prohibits the importation of persons for immoral purposes or of persons to perform "labor or service of any kind, skilled or unskilled, by previous solicitation or agreement." §§ 3 and 4. It imposes the duty on the master of any vessel having on board alien immigrants to deliver to the immigrant officer at the port of arrival lists made at the port of embarkation. § 12. These lists are required to be verified by the oath of the master of the vessel taken before the immigrant officer at the port of arrival, to the effect that the surgeon of the vessel who sails therewith has physically and orally examined each alien, and that from such examination by the surgeon and from his own investigation the officer of the ship believes that no one of the listed persons is disqualified by law from entering. This list is also required to be verified by the affidavit of the surgeon, and in case no surgeon sails with the ship it is required that the owner of the vessel employ at the port of embarkation a competent surgeon to make the examination. §§ 13 and 14. Upon the arrival of a vessel in the United States, for the purpose of verifying the lists, immigration officers are authorized to board the vessel, inspect the immigrants and to disembark them for further inspection and medical examination, the disembarkation for such purposes not to be considered as a landing within the United States. The medical examination, the statute provides, shall be made by medical officers of the United States Marine Hospital Service assigned to such duty, and upon them is imposed the obligation of certifying, "for the information of the immigration officers and the boards of special

[ 214 U.S. Page 331]

     inquiry provided for, any and all physical and mental defects or diseases observed by said medical officers in any such alien." In case of controversy concerning the right of an alien to land, full provision is made for the taking of testimony, and ultimately where a right to land is challenged, for a determination of the question by boards of inquiry which the statute creates. §§ 16, 17, 24. The cost of maintenance pending investigation or treatment of an alien found to be within the prohibited class or classes is cast upon the vessel and its owners, and the duty of returning at its cost such immigrant to the port from which he came is also cast upon the ship or its owner. § 19. The performance of the duties which the act imposes are sanctioned in some cases by the creation of a criminal responsibility, and in others by the imposition of penalties recoverable in civil actions. Thus, among others, it is made a misdemeanor, punishable by fine and imprisonment, for any person to bring into or land, or attempt to do so, any alien not duly admitted by an immigrant inspector or not lawfully entitled to enter. § 6. It is made a misdemeanor, punishable upon conviction by fine and imprisonment, to land any alien without complying with the requirements for examination by medical officers as contemplated in the statute. §§ 17 and 18. And it is also made a misdemeanor, punishable by fine or imprisonment, to knowingly aid or assist or conspire to procure or permit the entry of an alien into the United States contrary to the regulations which the statute provides. § 38. Further, it is made a misdemeanor to refuse to discharge the duty of returning an immigrant and power is given to refuse clearance to the vessel. § 19. And a penalty, recoverable by civil action, is authorized for violations of § 4, relating to the importation of aliens under previous contract. Section 9, which as we have said is here involved, is as follows:

"That it shall be unlawful for any person, including any transportation company other than railway lines entering the United States from foreign contiguous territory, or the owner, master, agent, or consignee of any vessel, to bring to the

[ 214 U.S. Page 332]

     United States any alien afflicted with a loathsome or with a dangerous contagious disease; and if it shall appear to the satisfaction of the Secretary of the Treasury (Secretary of Commerce and Labor) that any alien so brought to the United States was afflicted with such a disease at the time of foreign embarkation, and that the existence of such disease might have been detected by means of a competent medical examination at such time, such person or transportation company, or the master, agent, owner, or consignee of any such vessel, shall pay to the collector of customs of the customs district in which the port of arrival is located the sum of one hundred dollars for each and every violations of the provisions of this section; and no vessel shall be granted clearance papers while any such fine imposed upon it remains unpaid, nor shall such fine be remitted."

The express prohibition against bringing into the United States alien immigrants afflicted with "loathsome or dangerous contagious diseases," which the section contains, is so apparent, and the power to enact the prohibition so obvious, that we dismiss these subjects from further consideration. The exaction which the section authorizes the Secretary of Commerce and Labor to impose, when considered in the light afforded by the context of the statute, is clearly but a power given as a sanction to the duty, which the statute places on the owners of all vessels, to subject all alien emigrants, prior to bringing them to the United States, to medical examination at the point of embarkation, so as to exclude those afflicted with the prohibited diseases. In other words, the power to impose the exaction which the statute confers on the Secretary is lodged in that officer only when it results from the official medical examination at the point of arrival not only that an alien is afflicted with one of the prohibited diseases, but that the stage of the malady as disclosed by the examination establishes that the alien was suffering with the disease at the time of embarkation, and that such fact would have beeen then discovered had the medical examination been then made by the vessel or its

[ 214 U.S. Page 333]

     owners, as the statute requires. We think it is also certain that the power thus lodged in the Secretary of Commerce and Labor was intended to be exclusive, and that its exertion was authorized as the result of the probative force attributed to the official medical examination for which the statute provides, and that the power to refuse clearance to vessels was lodged for the express purpose of causing both the imposition of the exaction and its collection to be acts of administrative competency, not requiring a resort to judicial power for their enforcement. While we have said that the conclusions just stated are clearly sustained by the text, yet, if ambiguity be conceded, it is dispelled, and the same result is reached by a consideration of the report of the Senate Committee on Immigration, where the provisions originated, and which we have a right to consider as a guide to its true interpretation. The Delaware, 161 U.S. 459; Buttfield v. Stranahan, 192 U.S. 470, 495. In that report it was said:

"Notwithstanding the explicit of the present law, it has been found impossible to prevent the steamship companies from bringing diseased aliens to our ports. Once on this side, every argument and influence that can be used is resorted to, either to effect the landing of such aliens or their treatment in the hospital as a preliminary to such landing. Expert medical testimony is secured to attack the diagnosis of the examining surgeon and even to question the contagious nature of the disease. Pitiable stories are told of the separation of parents from young children to induce officers to relax in the discharge of their plain duty. Great charitable organizations intervene, and even political influence is invoked for the same purpose, the steamship companies themselves, either covertly or openly, displaying a spirit of resistance to the law. If all of these obstacles to the execution of the law fail of their purpose, and the alien afflicted with tuberculosis, favus, or trachoma is sent back, still by the willful or indifferent defiance of this sanitary law the design sought by its passage is defeated, for hundreds may possibly have been -- indeed,

[ 214 U.S. Page 334]

     almost certainly have been -- exposed to the disease in the steerage on the way over, may have been affected by it and landed before it has reached a stage of development ...

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