Supreme Court grants reprieve to some convicted immigrants
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court granted a reprieve Monday to many legal immigrants with criminal convictions, ruling they cannot be deported without a court hearing.
The 5-4 majority disagreed with a provision of a 1996 law that barred court review of removal orders for immigrants convicted of aggravated felonies.
The rulings, in two separate cases, primarily concerned those who pleaded guilty under an old law that provided such review – but faced deportation proceedings under the new, more restrictive legislation.
Lawyers representing immigrants have contended Congress could not prevent judges from reviewing constitutional claims. The Justice Department argued in favor of the law, saying the intent was to avoid delays in removing criminals from the country.
The rulings in both cases were 5-4.
Justice John Paul Stevens, in the majority opinion, said aliens who pleaded guilty under the old law ”almost certainly relied” on their right to a court review ”in deciding whether to forgo their right to a trial. The ”elimination of any possibility of … relief … has an obvious and severe retroactive effect,” he wrote.
”We therefore hold that relief remains available for aliens … whose convictions were obtained through plea agreements and who, notwithstanding those convictions, would have been eligible for … relief at the time of their plea under the law then in effect.”
Two 1996 laws were at issue: the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. They dramatically altered the government’s treatment of aliens who commit crimes or face deportation for other reasons.
Previously, some aliens facing deportation could seek a waiver from the attorney general. The option disappeared for immigrants convicted of aggravated felonies.
One case involved a government appeal seeking to deport a man from Haiti who pleaded guilty to a drug crime in Connecticut. The other involved an appeal by three natives of the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Guyana who were ordered deported for drug crimes in New York state.
Immigration officials ordered all four aliens deported and said the new law barred them from seeking a waiver.
Stevens was joined in the majority by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. Dissenting were Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
The Haitian, Enrico St. Cyr, won rulings by a federal trial judge and the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowing him to seek a waiver because his crime occurred before the new law took effect. The other three aliens took similar arguments directly to the appeals court.
In each case, the 2nd Circuit court said that because the new law barred appeals court review of such issues, the aliens could file a petition in federal trial court.
Denying all court review would ”raise a serious constitutional question,” the appeals court said in the St. Cyr case.
The cases are Immigration and Naturalization Service v. St. Cyr, 00-767, and Calcano-Martinez v. Immigration and Naturalization Service, 00-1011.
On the Net:
For the appeals court rulings: http://www.uscourts.gov/links.html and click on 2nd Circuit.
Supreme Court: http://www.supremecourtus.gov
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