Articles Posted in U.S. Supreme Court

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Petitioner, a Mexican citizen and lawful permanent resident of the U.S., pleaded no contest in a California court under a statute criminalizing “unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor who is more than three years younger than the perpetrator,” defining “minor” as “a person under the age of 18.” He was ordered removed under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(3), as an “alien who is convicted of an aggravated felony,” including “sexual abuse of a minor.” The Supreme Court reversed. Under the categorical approach employed to determine whether an alien’s conviction qualifies as an aggravated felony, the court asks whether the state statute defining the crime of conviction categorically fits within the "generic" federal definition of a corresponding aggravated felony. Petitioner’s state conviction would be an “aggravated felony” only if the least of the acts criminalized by the state statute falls within the generic federal definition of sexual abuse of a minor, regardless of the actual facts of the case. The least of the acts criminalized by the California law would be consensual sexual intercourse between a victim who is almost 18 and a perpetrator who just turned 21. The generic federal definition of “sexual abuse of a minor” requires that the victim be younger than 16 and a significant majority of state criminal codes set the age of consent at 16 for statutory rape offenses predicated exclusively on the age of the participants. View "Esquivel-Quintana v. Sessions" on Justia Law

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An equally divided Court affirmed, by per curiam opinion, the judgment of the appeals court below. That court had temporarily halted implementation of the federal government's Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program ("DAPA") on the grounds that the policy likely violated the Administrative Procedure Act. The case will go back to the federal district court to determine whether DAPA should be permanently enjoined. View "United States v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Any alien convicted of an “aggravated felony” after entering the U.S. is deportable, ineligible for several forms of discretionary relief, and subject to expedited removal, 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), (3). An “aggravated felony” is defined as any of numerous offenses listed in Section 1101(a)(43), each of which is typically identified either as an offense “described in” a specific federal statute or by a generic label (e.g., murder); the penultimate sentence states that each enumerated crime is an aggravated felony irrespective of whether it violates federal, state, or foreign law. Luna, a lawful permanent resident, pleaded guilty in New York to attempted third-degree arson. An Immigration Judge determined that Luna’s arson conviction was for an “aggravated felony” and that Luna was ineligible for discretionary relief. The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed. The Second Circuit denied review. The Supreme Court affirmed. A state offense counts as a Section 1101(a)(43) “aggravated felony” when it has every element of a listed federal crime except one requiring a connection to interstate or foreign commerce.; state crimes do not need a “jurisdictional hook.” Congress meant the term “aggravated felony” to capture serious crimes regardless of whether they are made illegal by the federal government, a state, or a foreign country. It is implausible that Congress viewed the presence of an interstate commerce element as separating serious from nonserious conduct. View "Luna Torres v. Lynch" on Justia Law

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Qualifying U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) may petition for family members to obtain immigrant visas. A sponsored individual (principal beneficiary) is placed into a “family preference” category based on relationship to the petitioner, 8 U.S.C. 1153(a)(1)–(4). The principal beneficiary’s spouse and minor children qualify as derivative beneficiaries, entitled to the same status and order of consideration as the principal. Beneficiaries become eligible to apply for visas in order of priority date, the date a petition was filed. Because the process often takes years, a child may age out and lose status before she obtains a visa. The Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) provides that if the age of an alien is determined to be 21 years or older, notwithstanding allowances for bureaucratic delay, the petition “shall automatically be converted to the appropriate category and the alien shall retain the original priority date issued upon receipt of the original petition.” In this case, principal beneficiaries who became LPRs, filed petitions for their aged-out children (who did not have a qualifying relationship with the original sponsor), asserting that the newly filed petitions should receive the same priority date as their original petitions. U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) disagreed. The district court granted the government summary judgment, deferring to the Board of Immigration Appeals’ (BIA’s) determination under section 1153(h)(3). The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the provision entitled all aged-out derivative beneficiaries to automatic conversion and priority date retention. The Supreme Court reversed, reasoning that each immigrant must have a qualified and willing sponsor. If an original sponsor does not have a legally recognized relationship with the aged-out children, another sponsor must be identified for the alien to qualify for a new family preference category. Immigration officials do not know whether a valid sponsor exists unless the aged-out beneficiary files and USCIS approves a new petition. Section 1153(h)(3) does not require a new petition for derivative beneficiaries who had a qualifying relationship with an LPR both before and after they aged out. In contrast, the nieces, nephews, and grandchildren of the initial sponsors cannot qualify for “automatic conversion.” The BIA’s interpretation benefits from administrative simplicity and fits with immigration law’s basic first-come, first-served rule. View "Scialabba v. de Osorio" on Justia Law

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Moncrieffe, a Jamaican citizen legally in the U.S., was found with 1.3 grams of marijuana in his car. He pleaded guilty under Georgia law to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, a noncitizen convicted of an “aggravated felony” is deportable, 8 U.S.C. 227(a)(2)(A)(iii), and ineligible for discretionary relief. The INA lists as an “aggravated felony” “illicit trafficking in a controlled substance,” including conviction of an offense that the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) makes punishable as a felony (by more than one year’s imprisonment). A state conviction is a felony punishable under the CSA only if it involves conduct punishable as a felony under federal law. Possession of marijuana with intent to distribute is a CSA offense, 21 U.S.C. 841(a), punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. An Immigration Judge ordered Moncrieffe removed. The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed. The Fifth Circuit denied a petition for review, rejecting reliance on section 841(b)(4), which makes marijuana distribution punishable as a misdemeanor if the offense involves a small amount for no remuneration. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded. If a noncitizen’s conviction for marijuana distribution fails to establish that the offense involved either remuneration or more than a small amount of marijuana, it is not an aggravated felony under the INA. The Court employed the “categorical approach,” examining what the state conviction necessarily involved and not the facts underlying the case, and presuming that the conviction involved the least of the acts criminalized. Conviction under Georgia’s statute, alone, does not reveal whether either remuneration or more than a small amount was involved, so Moncrieffe’s conviction could correspond to either the CSA felony or the CSA misdemeanor. The Court rejected an argument that section 841(b)(4) was merely a mitigating sentencing factor, not an element of the offense. The government’s proposal that noncitizens be allowed, during immigration proceedings, to demonstrate that their convictions involved only a small amount of marijuana and no remuneration is inconsistent with the INA’s text and the categorical approach and would burden immigration courts and the noncitizens involved. Escaping aggravated felony treatment does not necessarily mean escaping deportation, because any marijuana distribution offense renders a noncitizen deportable as a controlled substances offender, but with an opportunity seek relief from removal. View "Moncrieffe v. Holder" on Justia Law

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Immigration officials initiated removal proceedings against Chaidez in 2009 upon learning that she had pleaded guilty to mail fraud in 2004. To avoid removal, she sought to overturn that conviction by filing a petition for a writ of coram nobis, contending that her former attorney’s failure to advise her of the guilty plea’s immigration consequences constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. While her petition was pending, the Supreme Court held, in Padilla v. Kentucky, that the Sixth Amendment requires defense attorneys to inform non-citizen clients of the deportation risks of guilty pleas. The district court vacated Chaidez’s conviction. The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that Padilla had declared a new rule and should not apply in a challenge to a final conviction. The Supreme Court affirmed. Padilla does not apply retroactively to cases already final on direct review. A case does not announce a new rule if it merely applies a principle that governed a prior decision to a different set of facts. Padilla’s ruling answered an open question about the Sixth Amendment’s reach, in a way that altered the law of most jurisdictions, breaking new ground and imposing a new obligation. View "Chaidez v. United States" on Justia Law

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The district court entered a preliminary injunction concerning four provisions of Arizona S. B. 1070, enacted in 2010: Section 3 makes failure to comply with federal alien-registration requirements a state misdemeanor; 5(C)makes it a misdemeanor for an unauthorized alien to seek or engage in work in Arizona; 6 authorizes state and local officers to arrest without a warrant if the officer has probable cause to believe a person has committed any offense that makes the person removable from the U.S.; and 2(B) requires officers conducting a stop, detention, or arrest to attempt, in some circumstances, to verify immigration status. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part, holding that Sections 3, 5(C), and 6 preempted. Section 3 intrudes on the field of alien registration, in which Congress has left no room for even complementary state laws. Section 5(C)’s criminal penalty is an obstacle to the federal regulatory system. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 makes it illegal for employers to knowingly hire, recruit, refer, or employ unauthorized workers, 8 U. S. C. 1324a(a)(1)(A),(a)(2); requires employers to verify prospective employees' status; and imposes criminal and civil penalties on employers, but only imposes civil penalties on aliens who seek, or engage in, unauthorized employment. Congress decided against criminal penalties on unauthorized employees. Section 6 creates an obstacle to federal law by attempting to provide state officers with additional arrest authority, which they could exercise with no instruction from the federal government. Generally, it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain in the U.S. It was improper to enjoin section 2(B) before state courts construed it and without some showing that its enforcement actually conflicts with federal law. The mandatory nature of the status checks does not interfere with the federal scheme. Consultation between federal and state officials is an important feature of the immigration system. It is not clear yet that 2(B), in practice, will require state officers to delay release of detainees for no reason other than to verify immigration status. That would raise constitutional concerns and would disrupt the federal framework, but the section could be read to avoid these concerns. View "Arizona v. United States" on Justia Law

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An immigration statute, 8 U.S.C. 1229b(a), authorized the Attorney General to cancel the removal of an alien from the United States who, among other things, has held the status of a lawful permanent resident (LPR) for at least five years, and has lived in the United States for at least seven continuous years after a lawful admission. Respondents both sought to impute their parents' years of continuous residence or LPR status to themselves. At issue was whether the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) could reasonably conclude that an alien living in this country as a child must meet those requirements on his own, without counting a parent's years of residence or immigration status. The Court held that the BIA's approach was based on a permissible construction of the statute under Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. View "Holder v. Gutierrez; Holder v. Sawyers" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, a native of Greece and a lawful permanent resident (LPR) of the United States, plead guilty to a felony in 1994. Petitioner later traveled to Greece in 2003 to visit his parents and on his return to the United States, he was treated as an inadmissible alien and placed in removal proceedings. Under the law governing at the time of petitioner's plea, an alien in his situation could travel abroad for brief periods without jeopardizing his resident alien status, 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(13). This case presented a question of retroactivity not addressed by Congress: As to an LPR convicted of a crime before the effective date of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(13)(C)(v) and 1182(a)(2), which regime governed, the one in force at the time of the conviction, or IIRIRA? Guided by the deeply rooted presumption against retroactive legislation, the Court held that section 1101(a)(13)(C)(v) did not apply to petitioner's conviction. The impact of petitioner's brief travel abroad on his permanent resident status was therefore determined not by IIRIRA, but by the legal regime in force at the time of his conviction. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the Second Circuit and remanded for further proceedings. View "Vartelas v. Holder" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, natives and citizens of Japan who have been lawful permanent residents of the United States since 1984, appealed a removal order after husband pleaded guilty to one count of willfully making and subscribing a false tax return in violation of 26 U.S.C. 7206(1) and wife pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and assisting in the preparation of a false tax return in violation of 26 U.S.C. 7206(2). At issue was whether aliens who commit certain federal tax crimes were subject to deportation as aliens who have been convicted of an aggravated felony. The Court held that violations of section 7206(1) and (2) were crimes "involv[ing] fraud or deceit" under 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43)(M)(i) and were therefore aggravated felonies as that term was defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. 1101 et seq., when the loss to the Government exceeded $10,000. Because petitioners were subject to deportation as aliens who have been convicted of aggravated felonies, the Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals. View "Kawashima v. Holder" on Justia Law