Okasa Shosen Kaisha Line v. United States
300 U.S. 98 (1937)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Okasa Shosen Kaisha Line v. United States, 300 U.S. 98 (1937)

Okasa Shosen Kaisha Line v. United States

No. 224

Argued January 4, 1937

Decided February 1, 1937

300 U.S. 98




1. In penal statutes, no less than in others, the language, if clear, is conclusive. P. 300 U. S. 101.

2. General expressions in an opinion which go beyond the case in which they were used may be respected, but ought not to control the judgment in a subsequent suit presenting the very point for decision. P. 300 U. S. 103.

3. Section 10(a) of the Immigration Act of 1917, as amended, makes it the duty of every person, including owners, masters, officers, and agents of vessels or transportation lines,

"bringing an alien to, or providing a means for an alien to come to, the United States, to prevent the landing of such alien in the United States at any time or place other than as designated by the immigration officers."

Penalties were prescribed for failure to comply.


(1) The word "alien," as used in the section, was not intended to include an alien sailor. P. 300 U. S. 103.

(2) To constitute the act of "bringing an alien to the United States," it is not essential that there be an intent to leave him here. Decided thus in a case involving an alien passenger, en route from Brazil to Japan, who debarked at a port of call in the United States. Taylor v. United States,207 U. S. 120, limited. P. 300 U. S. 104.

(3) Under § 10, it is not necessary that a detention order be issued by the immigration officials; the landing of an alien is forbidden unless permitted. P. 300 U. S. 101.

(4) The meaning of § 10(a) is not restricted by subdivision (b) of § 10, which simply provides a rule of evidence affecting the burden of proof. P. 300 U. S. 104.

84 F.2d 482 affirmed.

Certiorari, 299 U.S. 526, to review a decree reversing a decree of the District Court, which dismissed with prejudice a libel by the United States to recover a penalty under the Immigration Act.

Page 300 U. S. 99

MR. JUSTICE SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the Court.

Section 10(a) of the Immigration Act of February 5, 1917, as amended, title 8 U.S.C. § 146(a), makes it the duty of every person, including owners, masters, officers, and agents of vessels or transportation lines,

"bringing an alien to, or providing a means for an alien to come to, the United States, to prevent the landing of such alien in the United States at any time or place other than as designated by the immigration officers."

Failure to comply with the provision constitutes a misdemeanor punishable by fine or imprisonment or both. If the Secretary of Labor is of opinion that a prosecution is impracticable or inconvenient, a penalty of $1,000 is imposed, and a lien upon the vessel is created for which such vessel shall be libeled in the appropriate United States court.

By subdivision (b) of § 10, proof that the alien failed to present himself at the time and place designated by the immigration officers constitutes prima facie evidence that the alien has landed at a time or place other than that designated.

On June 11, 1932, the Santos Maru came into the port of New Orleans with Salvatore Sprovieri, an alien passenger, on board. The passenger was en route from Brazil to Japan upon a through ticket, and was not entitled to enter the United States. On arrival of the steamship, the immigration officers at New Orleans issued a written order to the steamship to hold the alien

Page 300 U. S. 100

on board at all ports of the United States at which the ship might touch, the order being duly served upon the officers of the ship. A few days later, the ship arrived at the port of Galveston, Texas, and there, by the negligence of the ship, its officers and crew, the alien passenger was allowed to escape and land in the United States without permission of the immigration officers and in violation of their order. Officers of the ship notified the immigration authorities of the escape of the passenger, but the ship sailed before his arrest. Subsequently, the passenger was arrested and deported on another vessel of the same line.

The Secretary of Labor was of opinion that it was impracticable and inconvenient to prosecute the matter criminally, and a libel was filed on behalf of the United States in the appropriate federal district court, praying a decree for the $1,000 penalty and to enforce the lien therefor against the ship.

The district court took the view that, the alien passenger not being bound for the United States but en route from Brazil to Japan, the ship was not liable, and dismissed the libel with prejudice. The Circuit Court of Appeals held otherwise, reversed the decree, and remanded the cause with instructions to enter a decree for the United States. The Santos Maru, 84 F.2d 482.

The basic contention of petitioner, in its assault upon the latter decree, is that one who transports an alien passenger from one foreign country to another does not bring him to the United States, within the meaning of § 10, by entering, with the alien on board an American port of call on the way. If it were not for a sentence contained in the opinion of this Court in Taylor v. United States, infra of which we shall speak later, we might dispose of this contention by simply saying that it is contrary to the unambiguous terms of the section. Nothing can be plainer than that a ship which enters

Page 300 U. S. 101

one of our ports has come to the United States, and a passenger on board obviously has come with the ship, and consequently has been brought by the ship to the United States. And this remains none the less the fact although the ship continue on her way to a foreign port, and although it was intended that the passenger should go with her, and not be left in the United States. To say that the passenger has not been brought to the United States unless the intent was to leave him here is not to construe the statute, but to add an additional and qualifying term to its provisions. This we are not at liberty to do under the guise of construction, because, as this Court has so often held, where the words are plain, there is no room for construction. United States v. Wiltberger, 5 Wheat. 76, 18 U. S. 95-96; Hamilton v. Rathbone,175 U. S. 414, 175 U. S. 419, 175 U. S. 421; United States v. Hartwell, 6 Wall. 385, 73 U. S. 396; Crooks v. Harrelson,282 U. S. 55, 282 U. S. 59-60.

It is urged that the statute is highly penal in character, and should therefore be construed strictly. But the object of all construction, whether of penal or other statutes, is to ascertain the legislative intent, and in penal statutes, as in those of a different character, "if the language be clear, it is conclusive." United States v. Hartwell, supra, pp. 73 U. S. 395-396; United States v. Corbett,215 U. S. 233, 215 U. S. 242; Sacramento Nav. Co. v. Salz,273 U. S. 326, 273 U. S. 329-330.

The duty of the ship is to prevent the landing of through alien passengers except by permission. The United States is under no obligation to permit the temporary landing of such passengers at its ports at all. A detention order is not necessary, although one was issued in this instance; for the case is not one where landing is permitted if not forbidden by the immigration officials, but where it is forbidden unless permitted. Section 10 is not like, for example, § 20 of the Immigration Act of 1924, which imposes a fine upon the owner, charterer,

Page 300 U. S. 102

agent, consignee, or master of a vessel arriving in the United States who fails, after inspection, to detain an alien seaman employed on the vessel "if required" by the immigration officer in charge of the port to do so. Under that provision, "A duty so to detain does not arise unless and until such detention is required by the immigration officer." Compagnie Generale v. Elting,298 U. S. 217, 298 U. S. 223. Under § 10, however, the duty is imposed by the statute, and not by requirement of the immigration officials. The matter is taken care of by a regulation of the Secretary of Labor (Rule 3, subdivision H,

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