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Supreme Court rules against immigrants seeking deportation leniency

The United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that an undocumented immigrant brought to the United States by his or her parents as a child cannot avoid deportation based upon the parent's immigration status and years of legal residency under an immigration law provision that allows leniency for eligible immigrants.

Generally, immigration law provides an exception to removal after a criminal conviction for immigrants who have been in the country for at least seven continuous years and have been legally registered for at least five years. Immigration law gives the government discretion in such cases, and immigrants can seek leniency in removal proceedings if they qualify under the exception.

The Board of Immigration Appeals essentially has held that that cancellation of removal provision at issue cannot be satisfied by the residency or LPR status of the immigrant's parents. A split in the federal circuits arose, and the Supreme Court heard two cases from the Ninth Circuit earlier this year. The cases essentially held that the government could consider the parents' history under the contested immigration law provision.

One of the immigrants obtained lawful permanent residency in 2003, when he was 19 years old. Roughly two years later, law enforcement arrested the immigrant on suspicion of immigrant smuggling. The federal government ultimately began removal proceedings, seeking to deport the man based upon the criminal case. The man's father had been admitted as a legal permanent resident in 1991.

The man argued that his father's immigration status and years of legal residency could be considered in determining whether the exception should apply. Ultimately, the Ninth Circuit held that the man could rely upon his father's residency.

The second case involved a Jamaican citizen who was admitted as a permanent resident in 1995. The young man was admitted as an LPR when he was 15 years old, according to the high court ruling. His mother had been lawfully in the country for six years when the young man was admitted.

In 2002, he was convicted for a controlled substance offense, and the federal government began removal proceedings. He argued that the time he lived as a minor with his mother should be considered, allowing him to fall within the eligibility exception to remain in the country.

The Obama Administration argued in the Supreme Court that the plain language of the immigration laws require that an immigrant personally satisfy the eligibility requirements to avoid deportation after a criminal conviction. The government claimed that any preference for family unity must yield to the plain language of the law. The administration argued that its high-priority efforts to deport criminals would be harmed if the immigrant could rely upon the residency requirements of a parent in these types of cases.

The Supreme Court held in favor of the government. The justices ruled that the Board of Immigration Appeals interpretation of the law requiring an immigrant to personally satisfy the residency or LPR requirements to be eligible for a cancellation of removal is consistent with the text of the statute and entitled to deference.

Source: Reuters via Chicago Tribune, "Supreme court rules for government on immigrants' residence," James Vicini, May 21, 2012

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