Supreme Court Says Deportation Law is Too Vague

The 5-4 decision could limit the Trump administration’s ability to expedite the removal of immigrants with criminal records. Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch sided with the court’s liberal justices.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that an immigration statute requiring the deportation of noncitizens who commit felonies is unlawfully vague. The decision that could limit the Trump administration’s ability to step up the removal of immigrants with criminal records, reports Reuters. The court, in a 5-4 ruling in which President Trump’s appointee Neil Gorsuch joined the court’s four liberal justices, sided with convicted California burglar James Garcia Dimaya, a legal immigrant from the Philippines. The court upheld a 2015 lower court ruling that the Immigration and Nationality Act provision requiring Dimaya’s deportation created uncertainty over which crimes may be considered violent, risking arbitrary enforcement in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The ruling helps clarify the criminal acts for which legal immigrants may be expelled at a time of intense focus on immigration issues as Trump seeks to increase deportations of immigrants who have committed crimes. Dimaya came to the U.S. from the Philippines as a legal permanent resident in 1992 at age 13. Federal authorities ordered Dimaya deported after he was convicted in two California home burglaries, though neither crime involved violence. He received a two-year prison sentence for each conviction. In 2010, the government sought to deport Dimaya. The Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals refused to cancel his expulsion because the relevant law defined burglary as a “crime of violence.” The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2015 that the definition as applied to legal immigrants was so vague that it violated their rights to due process of law. The high court initially heard arguments in January 2017 with one vacancy on the court, but decided after Gorsuch brought the court to full strength to have the case re-argued. On Tuesday, Gorsuch concurred the court’s judgment but issued his own opinion.