Document Type


Publication Date

January 2014


Since the early twentieth century, federal immigration law has targeted noncitizens believed to engage in excessive alcohol consumption by prohibiting their entry or limiting their ability to obtain citizenship and other benefits. The first specific mention of alcohol-related behavior appeared in the Immigration Act of 1917, which called for the exclusion of "persons with chronic alcoholism" seeking to enter the United States. Several decades later, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 specified that any noncitizen who "is or was ... a habitual drunkard" was per se lacking in good moral character, and hence ineligible for naturalization. Although the "chronic alcoholism" provision was eventually removed from the grounds of exclusion, the habitual drunkard clause remains part of the statute, vexing both scholars and practitioners, and casting a shadow over many different forms of relief.