Maria and Joseph Plasencia's Lost Weekend: The Case of Landon V. Plasencia

Posted: 19 May 2005

See all articles by Kevin R. Johnson

Kevin R. Johnson

University of California, Davis - School of Law


This is a chapter to a book, edited by David A. Martin and Peter H. Schuck, that includes chapters telling the stories of major U.S. immigration law cases. This chapter tells the human story of Maria and Joseph Plasencia behind the Supreme Court's decision in Landon v. Plasencia 459 U.S. 21 (1982). In an opinion written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the Court held that the question whether Plasencia, a lawful permanent resident who was accused of being inadmissible because she was seeking to smuggle noncitizens into the country upon her return to a brief weekend trip to Mexico, could be determined in an exclusion (rather than a deportation) hearing, but also that this hearing must comport with due process. Prompted by Landon v. Plasencia, Congress in 1996 amended the immigration statute to provide that returning lawful permanent residents seeking to enter the country are generally not subject to the same procedures and inadmissibility grounds as first-time entrants. A beneficial dialogue between the Supreme Court in Landon v. Plasencia and Congress thus secured greater rights for lawful permanent residents and arguably made immigration procedures more consistent with mainstream constitutional norms.

The real life drama of Maria and Joseph Plasencia shows a rather ordinary couple - one an immigrant, the other a native-born U.S. citizen - caught up in larger national and international tides. Far from a passive observer, Maria Plasencia refused to concede removal but pressed her claim to return to her family in the United States. Legally, the Supreme Court decision in the case was a loss for Maria, but, released pending appeal and never pursued by the INS after the Supreme Court's decision, she returned to normal life in the United States with her family.

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Kevin R., Maria and Joseph Plasencia's Lost Weekend: The Case of Landon V. Plasencia. Available at SSRN:

Kevin R. Johnson (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

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