Do Non-Citizens Have Constitutional Rights?

Do non-citizens of the United States have constitutional rights? Although there are certain exceptions, the short answer is yes. Non-citizens are protected under the US Constitution. Within the US Constitution, only certain provisions refer to “citizens” while most refer to “persons.” When the Constitution mentions “persons,” those rights apply to everyone.

Within the US Constitution, protections and rights apply to everyone on US soil or US jurisdiction. Essentially, this means everyone simply standing on US soil is protected by the Constitution and has equal rights under the law. This includes permanent residents, tourists, and yes, undocumented immigrants.

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Inalienable Rights Protect Everyone

The US Constitution specifically details several rights any person is entitled to. For instance, the Bill of Rights clearly lists a series of rights for all human beings, regardless of citizenship status. These ten amendments within the Bill of Rights are inalienable rights for every person on US soil, regardless of orientation, citizenship, gender, and nationality. All ten of the amendments use “people” or “person” and never “citizen.” These rights include:

  • Freedom of religion
  • Freedom of speech
  • Peaceful assembly
  • Right to bear arms
  • Right to petition the government
  • Protection against unreasonable searches and seizures
  • Right to due process
  • Right to trial by jury
  • Right to a legal counsel

Equal Protection

Within the US Constitution, the 14th amendment ensures the right to equal protection under the law. This amendment states that any US governing body must govern without discrimination to anyone within US territory. In fact, this is one of the most important clauses in protecting the civil rights of people.

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Sometimes constitutional rights aren’t flat-out expressed by law, but rather through a series of court cases and rulings. One example of this is the right to family integrity. Modern day court rulings state that people have a right to be with their family. With this ruling, the government can’t separate families without a legal process.

Another example is the right to education. While the US Constitution does not expressly state this, supreme court rulings have. Supreme court ruling states that both citizens and non-citizens alike should have access to free education.

While all of the above constitutional rights protect everyone, including non-citizens, there are some exceptions that apply to citizens only. These include:

  • Voting
  • Running for office
  • Immigration
  • Unreasonable Searches
  • Due process


Voting in US government elections is a right for citizens only. In fact, non-citizens can be arrested for voting in federal elections. In 1926, most US states passed laws which prohibited non-citizens from voting. Elections reserved only for US citizens include voting in presidential elections, senate elections, House of Representatives elections, or resident commissioner elections.

However, certain areas in the US allow non-citizens to vote in local elections. These areas include San Francisco, California and Maryland.

Running for Office

Unfortunately, non-citizens can never run for president. In fact, only those born in the United States (or on US territory) can run for the highest office. The US Constitution clearly states that running for public office is a right reserved for US citizens only.

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While the US Constitution protects the rights of non-citizens on US territory, it does not apply to those outside US borders. If a non-citizen is technically outside of US territory, these constitutional rights don’t apply. This means that the government has the right to deny entry to the United States if a non-citizen is outside US borders. However, the specifics of denying entry to the country should not contradict the US constitution.

Unreasonable Searches

While non-citizens are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures inside the US, it doesn’t apply outside borders. Technically, searches and confiscations at the US border are legal since non-citizens aren’t on US soil. Additionally, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is allowed to conduct searches even within 100 miles from the border if the situation warrants it.

Due Process

Although the right to due process is a guaranteed right under the Bill of Rights, it may not always apply to undocumented immigrants. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act of 1996 created the expidited removal process. Under this act, undocumented immigrants in the country for less than 2 years and apprehended within 100 miles of the border can face deportation immediately—without proper hearing.

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