In an 8-1 decision on June 22, the US Supreme Court ruled that immigrants who return to the US after being deported are “continuous lawbreakers” who lose the right to remain in the US, even after they marry US citizens. The ruling came in the case of Humberto Fernandez-Vargas, a 53-year-old Mexican citizen who entered the US illegally in the 1970s and was then deported several times. He had been in the US continuously since 1982 and had applied for permanent legal residency after marrying a US citizen in 2001. He was arrested and deported to Mexico two years ago; his wife, Rita, continued the legal battle on his behalf.
The Court upheld a strict interpretation of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), which says that “an alien [who] reentered the United States illegally after having been removed” may not seek to have his or her case “reopened or reviewed. [He] is not eligible and may not apply for any relief, and the alien shall be removed at any time after the reentry.”
Several courts had earlier taken the same position, while the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California had ruled that Congress did not mean to apply the 1996 law retroactively. The Supreme Court insisted that Congress meant the law to apply to every deported immigrant who had returned illegally to the US and remained here. Fernandez-Vargas “had an ample warning” of the law in 1996, and “he chose to remain after the new statute became effective,” Justice David Souter wrote in Fernandez-Vargas vs. Gonzales.
The court did suggest that the outcome might be different for once-deported immigrants who married US citizens or applied to become legal residents before 1996. In the lone dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens said Fernandez-Vargas would have been eligible to stay in the US before the 1996 law was passed, so it was unfair to apply the law to him retroactively now. (Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, June 23)
From Immigration News Briefs, July 8
See our last post on the immigration crackdown.