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Supreme Court Strikes Down Mandatory Deportations for Immigrants Convicted of Some Crimes

17 April 2018

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 can not be enforced.

The court issued the ruling at a time of intense focus on immigration issues in the United States as Trump seeks to increase deportations of immigrants who have committed crimes, though it was former President Barack Obama's administration that sought to deport Dimaya.

"Removal is a virtual certainty for an alien found to have an aggravated felony conviction, no matter how long he has previously resided here", Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the majority.

The San Francisco-based 9th 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 under the U.S. Constitution.

Gorsuch, in one of his first major breaks with fellow conservatives, joined the court's left-leaning four justices in upending that part of immigration law. While conservatives may be frustrated by Gorsuch's vote, the court supposedly used the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia's reasoning in their opinion.

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Federal authorities ordered Dimaya deported after he was convicted in two California home burglaries, in 2007 and 2009, though neither crime involved violence.

The case began under the Obama administration after James Dimaya, who came to the USA legally in 1992 from the Philippines, pleaded no contest to two counts of residential burglary in California. In 2010, the Obama administration brought removal proceedings against Dimaya.

Lawyers for Dimaya appealed the removal arguing that it was unconstitutionally vague and that their client never had fair notice that his crimes would result in deportation.

The court's ruling followed a similar one in 2015, when Scalia wrote an 8-1 decision declaring a key section of criminal law targeting armed violence unconstitutionally vague.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Dimaya's favor. "This decision is of enormous outcome, striking down a flawed law that applies in a vast range of criminal and immigration cases and which has resulted in many thousands of immigrants being deported for decades in violation of their due process rights".

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The decision is a loss for President Donald Trump's administration, which has emphasized stricter enforcement of immigration law.

"This ruling is something immigrants can cite to as they argue for more constitutional protections in other areas", he said.

Police officers stand in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC, U.S., January 19, 2018.

The ruling could especially benefit lawful permanent residents who live in the United States legally but commit crimes.

Dimaya's attorney, Joshua Rosenkranz, said the decision strikes down a law that has over decades led to the deportation of thousands of immigrants. The Immigration Judge held that Dimaya was deportable and that burglary constitutes a crime of violence because it always involves a risk of physical violence.

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Supreme Court Strikes Down Mandatory Deportations for Immigrants Convicted of Some Crimes