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Dhaka Tribune

US Supreme Court restricts deportations of immigrant felons

Immigration attorneys are uncertain how many pending deportations will be affected by the ruling

Update : 07 Oct 2023, 07:34 PM

A US law requiring the deportation of immigrants convicted of certain crimes of violence is unconstitutionally vague, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday, in a decision that could hinder the Trump administration's ability to step up the removal of immigrants with criminal records.

The court, in a 5-4 ruling in which President Donald Trump's conservative appointee Neil Gorsuch joined the four liberal justices, invalidated the provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act and sided with convicted California burglar James Garcia Dimaya, a legal immigrant from the Philippines.

The ruling, written by liberal Justice Elena Kagan, was decried by the administration, which had defended the provision.

Federal authorities had ordered Dimaya deported after he was convicted in two California home burglaries in 2007 and 2009. Neither burglary involved violence.

Kagan said ambiguity surrounding the crimes of violence provision created confusion in lower courts. "Does car burglary qualify as a violent felony?" Kagan wrote. "Some courts say yes, another says no." Kagan mentioned other examples including evading arrest and trespassing in which courts have also been divided.

The court's ruling will not affect a number of serious crimes, including murder, rape, counterfeiting or terrorism offenses, which are specifically listed in the law as grounds for deportation, several immigration attorneys said. That could limit its impact, though the government does not provide data on which crimes trigger the most deportations.

Immigration attorneys are uncertain how many pending deportations will be affected by the ruling, but "it's certainly not a tidal wave," said Kathy Brady, a senior staff attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

Gorsuch, in a concurring opinion, wrote that the American colonies in the 18th century cited vague English law like the crime of treason as among the reasons for the American revolution.

"Today's vague laws may not be as invidious, but they can invite the exercise of arbitrary power all the same - by leaving the people in the dark about what the law demands and allowing prosecutors and courts to make it up," Gorsuch added.

It was not entirely surprising that Gorsuch would break with the four other conservatives on the court and vote to strike down the provision. Gorsuch is ideologically aligned with the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, whom he replaced on the court last year. Scalia wrote a 2015 ruling that was invoked in Tuesday's decision that found that a similar provision in a federal criminal sentencing law was overly broad.

Gorsuch interpreted the immigration provision based on the original understanding of the Constitution, a view held by many conservative jurists.

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