The Supreme Court ruled 5-4, upholding a lower court decision to deny the appeals of a legal immigrant being deported for assault offenses, even though the offenses themselves were not enough to deport him.
The immigrant, Andre Barton, is being deported for drug, firearms, and assault offenses during his first 7 years in the U.S. Those assault offenses disqualified Barton from appealing his deportation, according to a law passed by Congress.
“Removal of a lawful permanent resident from the United States is a wrenching process, especially in light of the consequences for family members,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in the court’s opinion. “Removal is particularly difficult when it involves someone such as Barton who has spent most of his life in the United States. Congress made a choice, however, to authorize removal of noncitizens— even lawful permanent residents—who have committed certain serious crimes. And Congress also made a choice to categorically preclude cancellation of removal for noncitizens who have substantial criminal records. Congress may of course amend the law at any time. In the meantime, the Court is constrained to apply the law as enacted by Congress.”
The law is clear. Whether it’s wise or not is another question.
The controversy deals with an immigration law that allows defendants to apply for cancelation of deportation, but only if they satisfy certain requirements, including not having committed a particular offense within their first seven years of continuous residence in the U.S. This limitation, known as the “stop-time rule,” refers to offenses that render individuals inadmissible or deportable. Barton, who is being deported for drug and firearms offenses, had committed aggravated assault offenses during that seven-year period, but those offenses did not qualify for deportation.
This was not a good case for advocates to use to try to overturn the law. Barton had a checkered past and probably should have been deported much sooner.
Andre Barton, a Jamaican national and a lawful permanent resident of the United States, was convicted in 1996 of a firearms offense for shooting his ex-girlfriend’s house. He was also convicted of separate drug offenses in both 2007 and 2008 for which the government sought his removal.
The federal government contended that Barton failed to accrue the requisite seven years of continuous residency because his 1996 conviction triggered the time-stop rule.
In response, Barton argued that the 1996 crimes did not trigger the rule because he was a permanent resident who had already been admitted to the country at the time of the crime and therefore could not be rendered inadmissible as a matter of law.
This is an unusual case but it points out the mess our immigration laws are. That Barton was able to become a permanent resident in the first place and wasn’t deported after his firearms conviction reveals structural flaws that need to be addressed. Only Congress can do that, and that’s not going to happen anytime soon.