The Supreme Court said Tuesday that part of a federal law that makes it easier to deport immigrants who have been convicted of crimes is too vague to be enforced.
The court’s 5-4 decision — in an unusual alignment in which new Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the four liberal justices — concerns a catchall provision of immigration law that defines what makes a crime violent. Conviction for a crime of violence makes deportation “a virtual certainty” for an immigrant, no matter how long he has lived in the United States, Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her opinion for the court.
With the four other conservative justices in dissent, it was the vote of Trump-appointee Gorsuch that was decisive in striking down the provision at issue. Gorsuch did not join all of Kagan’s opinion, but he agreed with her that the law could not be left in place. Gorsuch wrote that “no one should be surprised that the Constitution looks unkindly on any law so vague that reasonable people cannot understand its terms and judges do not know where to begin in applying it.”
The Department of Homeland Security commented on Sessions v. Dimaya, which involved an immigrant who had been in the country legally for decades before pleading no contest to burglary and then being put in deportation proceedings.
“Today’s ruling significantly undermines DHS’s efforts to remove aliens convicted of certain violent crimes, including sexual assault, kidnapping, and burglary, from the United States. By preventing the federal government from removing known criminal aliens, it allows our nation to be a safe haven for criminals and makes us more vulnerable as a result,” said press secretary Tyler Q. Houlton. “The Secretary has met with hundreds of members of Congress over the last few months to implore them to take action on passing legislation to close public safety loopholes, such as these, that encourage illegal immigration and tie the hands of law enforcement.”