Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Delgado
Decided Apr. 17, 1984; 466 US 210


A. Issues Discussed: Search and seizure, immigration

B. Legal Question Presented:

Do government factory surveys constitute the seizure of an entire work forces, and does the individual questioning of employees by INS agents concerning their citizenship amount to a detention or seizure under the Fourth Amendment?


A. Background:

"Acting pursuant to two warrants, in January and September 1977, the INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service] and conducted a survey of the work force at Southern California Davis Pleating Co. (Davis Pleating) in search of illegal aliens. The warrants were issued on a showing of probable cause by the INS that numerous illegal aliens were employed at Davis Pleating, although neither of the search warrants identified any particular illegal aliens by name. A third factory survey was conducted with the employer's consent in October 1977, at Mr. Pleat, another garment factory.

At the beginning of the surveys several agents positioned themselves near the buildings' exits, while other agents dispersed throughout the factory to question most, but not all, employees at their work stations... Moving systematically through the factory, the agents approached employees and, after identifying themselves, asked them from one to three questions relating to their citizenship. If the employee gave a credible reply that he was a United States citizen, the questioning ended, and the agent moved on to another employee. If the employee gave an unsatisfactory response or admitted that he was an alien, the employee was asked to produce his immigration papers. During the survey, employees continued with their work and were free to walk around within the factory.

Respondents are four employees questioned in one of the three surveys. In 1978 respondents and their union representative, the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union, filed two actions, later consolidated, in the United States District Court for the Central District of California challenging the constitutionality of INS factory surveys and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Respondents argued that the factory surveys violated their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches or seizures and the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

[T]he District Court ruled that none of the respondents had been detained under the Fourth Amendment during the factory surveys, either when they were questioned or otherwise. Accordingly, it granted summary judgment in favor of the INS.

The [US Ninth Circuit] Court of Appeals reversed."

On certiorari the US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Brief of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the American Civil Liberties Union by David M. Brodsky, Burt Neuborne, and Charles S. Sims; and for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., et al. by Michael Kantor and Alan Diamond.

Henry R. Fenton argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Gordon K. Hubel and Max Zimny.

Deputy Solicitor General Frey argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were Solicitor General Lee, Assistant Attorney General Trott, Elliott Schulder, and Patty Merkamp Stemler.


"The Fourth Amendment does not proscribe all contact between the police and citizens, but is designed 'to prevent arbitrary and oppressive interference by enforcement officials with the privacy and personal security of individuals.' Given the diversity of encounters between police officers and citizens, however, the Court has been cautious in defining the limits imposed by the Fourth Amendment on encounters between the police and citizens. As we have noted elsewhere: 'Obviously, not all personal intercourse between policemen and citizens involves `seizures' of persons. Only when the officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has restrained the liberty of a citizen may we conclude that a `seizure' has occurred.'...

Unless the circumstances of the encounter are so intimidating as to demonstrate that a reasonable person would have believed he was not free to leave if he had not responded, one cannot say that the questioning resulted in a detention under the Fourth Amendment. But if the person refuses to answer and the police take additional steps... to obtain an answer, then the Fourth Amendment imposes some minimal level of objective justification to validate the detention or seizure....

We reject the claim that the entire work forces of the two factories were seized for the duration of the surveys when the INS placed agents near the exits of the factory sites. Ordinarily, when people are at work their freedom to move about has been meaningfully restricted, not by the actions of law enforcement officials, but by the workers' voluntary obligations to their employers. The record indicates that when these surveys were initiated, the employees were about their ordinary business, operating machinery and performing other job assignments. While the surveys did cause some disruption, including the efforts of some workers to hide, the record also indicates that workers were not prevented by the agents from moving about the factories.

Respondents argue, however, that the stationing of agents near the factory doors showed the INS's intent to prevent people from leaving. But there is nothing in the record indicating that this is what the agents at the doors actually did. The obvious purpose of the agents' presence at the factory doors was to insure that all persons in the factories were questioned.... Likewise, the mere possibility that they would be questioned if they sought to leave the buildings should not have resulted in any reasonable apprehension by any of them that they would be seized or detained in any meaningful way. Since most workers could have had no reasonable fear that they would be detained upon leaving, we conclude that the work forces as a whole were not seized."

The US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Justice Vote: 2 Pro vs. 7 Con

  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Burger, W. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • White, B. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J.P. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • O'Connor, S.D. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Powell, L. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Wrote concurring/dissenting opinion)
  • Marshall, T. Pro (Joined concurring/dissenting opinion)

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged affirmance of the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' judgment; the Supreme Court reversed in a 7-2 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.