Connecticut Law Review Volume 43 - Issue 5

“Men Made It, But They Can’t Control It”: Immigration Policy During the Great Depression, Its Parallels to Policy Today, and the Future Implications of the Supreme Court’s Decision in Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting

In its landmark 1941 decision, Edwards v. California, the Supreme Court held that people are themselves instruments of commerce. The Court’s decision not only signaled a dramatic shift in immigration policy, but also reflected the federal government’s desire to control the social and economic strife during and after the Great Depression. In May 2011, the Court again decided on issues impacting immigration and economics in Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting. Rather than using the Commerce Clause as they had in past cases, however, the Court decided Whiting based solely on the statutory language of the Immigration Reform Control Act and the Legal Arizona Workers Act. Unlike Edwards, where the Court could not ignore the socio-economic implications of its decision, the Whiting decision showed the Court’s current reluctance to address its ruling’s broader implications. This Note will discuss the social and economic climates that led to both the Edwards and the Whiting decisions. It will attempt to contrast the nuances of economic legal reasoning in post- Depression America with those at present, and show that, because of the similarities, as well as the differences, between the two periods, the Court’s decision in Whiting may have serious detrimental effects on immigration law, hiring of immigrants in the Southwest, and the American economy in general.

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