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Supreme Court Rules An Illegal Immigrant Can’t Be Deported Due To A Technicality

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The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in favor of an illegal alien in a 6-3 decision. The ruling concluded that the federal government did not satisfy a statute that requires the feds to serve illegal aliens with “a notice to appear” in a single document.

According to Fox News, the “notice to appear” is needed in order to trigger a “stop-time” rule, which prevents some illegal immigrants from being deported.

The “stop-time” rule was established under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.

“The Act mandates that immigrants who are unlawfully present in the U.S. for 180 days but under 365 days must remain outside the United States for three years unless pardoned,” the law states. “If they remain in the United States for 365 days or more, they must stay outside the United States for ten years unless they obtain a waiver. However, if they return to the U.S. without the pardon, they must wait 10 years until they may apply for a waiver.”

Under the law, the illegal alien’s time “stops” once he or she receives a “notice to appear” document with information about an upcoming immigration hearing.

In United States v. Palomar-Santiago, the case the Court just heard, the federal government sent multiple notices with different pieces of information. The Court ruled the notice has to take place in a single document, not through multiple documents. The dates and time of the immigration hearing must also be included in that document, SCOTUS Blog reported. The decision came down to the word “a” being in the law’s language.

“At one level, today’s dispute may seem semantic, focused on a single word, a small one at that,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the court’s opinion. “But words are how the law constrains power. In this case, the law’s terms ensure that, when the federal government seeks a procedural advantage against an individual, it will at least supply him with a single and reasonably comprehensive statement of the nature of the proceedings against him.”

There were questions surrounding Palomar-Santiago’s removal orders because of the validity of the “notice to appear” documents.

“The charge of criminal re-entry requires the prior existence of a removal order entered by a federal immigration agency,” SCOTUS Blog reported following oral arguments earlier this week. “In Refugio Palomar-Santiago’s case, that prior removal order did exist. However, the Supreme Court’s 2004 decision in Leocal v. Ashcroft, decided after the entry of his removal order, revealed that the administrative agency’s decision to deport him was not justified by law. Nonetheless, federal prosecutors brought a re-entry charge against him based on that same order. The question is whether Palomar-Santiago can defend against the re-entry prosecution based on the invalidity of the original removal order, or whether his defense must fail because he cannot meet additional requirements set forth by statute — namely, that he ‘exhausted’ his options for pursuing an administrative appeal of the removal order, and that the original proceedings deprived him of judicial review.”

The justices making up the majority opinion were an unusual combo. Gorsuch wrote the opinion, with liberal Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer, and conservative Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Clarence Thomas agreeing. Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the dissenting opinion, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito signing on.

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