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Gorsuch Sides With Immigrant in Striking Portion of Deportation Law

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Tuesday's decision is a loss for the Trump administration, which had defended the portion of the Immigration and Nationality Act from arguments that it violated immigrants' due process rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled 5 to 4 that a law subjecting immigrations to deportation for “crimes of violence” is unconstitutionally vague and cannot be enforced. Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch joined with the more liberal justices to strike the provision. 

The decision came in Sessions v. Diyama, a case that was carried over from last term when the justices were deadlocked 4 to 4 on how to resolve the matter. As expected, Gorsuch cast the deciding vote.

The case involved James Garcia Dimaya, a lawful immigrant to the United States from the Philippines. Dimaya was convicted twice of residential burglary while in the United States. 

Though neither conviction involved an act of violence, the government argued the convictions qualified for expedited removal under the Immigration and Nationality Act’s broad definition of “aggravated felony.” The government argued that even though Diyama had not been convicted of a violent crime, he could be deported under the portion of the statute that allowed for removal for “any … offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.”

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Burglary, the government argued, fit that definition.

Both an immigration court and the Board of Immigration Appeals agreed with the government’s read of the immigration statute and ordered Diyama removed from the US. 

Diyama appealed the removal order to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing the section of the immigration law the government relied on to order him deported was unconstitutionally vague and therefore violated his due process rights. The Ninth Circuit agreed and vacated the removal order. The government appealed to the Supreme Court, which first heard arguments in the case in January 2017 but was unable to resolve the matter and instead ordered it to be re-argued this term. 

Tuesday’s decision affirms the Ninth Circuit’s decision that the provision is too vague to enforce.

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