Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Gerald J. Pels

First Page



In this nation of immigrants, few matters of public policy arouse more intense or divisive public debate than the subject of change in our immigration and naturalization laws. Presently, our system of immigration laws, which is grounded upon antiquated procedure, is being tested by new problems. For example, the increase in political asylum cases and the influx of aliens from the third world have posed new challenges for these outdated procedures. The 97th Congress considered adopting the Simpson-Mazzoli bill in 1982 to alleviate the problems.

The Senate passed the Simpson-Mazzoli bill on August 17,1982, but the House did not act on the bill before the close of the second session. Had Congress enacted the Simpson-Mazzoli bill, the legislation would have instituted a new system for determining the legality of an alien's presence in the United States and for nondiscriminatory verification of employment eligibility. Because the bill placed responsibility for these functions on the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and other agencies within the executive branch, government officials would be charged with deciding when an alien was privileged to secure employment or to apply for United States citizenship. Errors by those government officials could have devastating consequences for aliens.

Aliens injured by these errors could sue the government officials for redress. Also, aliens benefitted by justified reliance on an official's error could sue to prevent correction of the error. In both instances the theory of equitable estoppel would be a logical basis for recovery. Although courts readily may determine the applicability of estoppel in a suit between private parties, the law of estoppel against the government is unsettled. This Recent Development will analyze the use of equitable estoppel against the government in immigration suits, emphasizing the Supreme Court's most recent decision in that area, Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Miranda, 103 S. Ct. 281 (1982).