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Supreme Court Strikes Down Portion of Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) as ‘Unconstitutionally Vague’

On April 17th, 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down a key portion of federal immigration law. In the case of Sessions v. Dimaya, the nation’s highest court ruled (5-4) that a portion of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is too vague to be enforced, and thus is in violation of due process.

Notably, the court’s newest member, Justice Neil Gorsuch, cast the deciding vote, breaking with the court’s conservative majority and the opinion of Trump Administration. In this article, our experienced Los Angeles immigration lawyers analyze the case and explain the likely implications of the decision.

Case Analysis: Sessions v. Dimaya

Procedural History

The case of Sessions v. Dimaya (formerly: Lynch v. Dimaya) was originally argued before the Supreme Court in January of 2017. At that time, the court, which was missing a member, ended in a split on the decision (4-4). It was re-argued in this most recent term, and the court’s new member, Trump appointee Justice Neil Gorsuch, was set to cast the deciding vote.

Background and Facts

James Garcia Dimaya was admitted to the United States as a permanent resident in the early 1990s. Nearly two decades later, Mr. Dimaya was convicted of burglary in California. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), a lawful permanent resident who is convicted of an ‘aggravated felony’ can be deported from the United States.

The INA defines an ‘aggravated felony’ as a ‘crime of violence’. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiated deportation proceedings against Mr. Dimaya on the grounds that his burglary conviction qualified as ‘crime of violence’ for the purposes of immigration law. An immigration judge agreed with this decision, allowing the deportation. In addition, Mr. Dimaya was unsuccessful in his appeal front of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).

The Statute is Unconstitutionally Vague

In front of the Supreme Court, Mr. Dimaya’s immigration lawyers argued that the INA contained an unconstitutional provision. Specifically, the term ‘crime of violence’ was too vague to be enforced. The court’s four liberal members and Justice Gorsuch agreed, referring directly to Johnson v. United States, in which another federal law was struck down on the grounds that the term ‘violent felony’ was too vague to be legally applicable.

The Implications of the Decision

This Supreme Court decision is a major win for immigrants. In many deportation cases, immigration judges had their hands tied because the INA seemed to require mandatory deportation for a wide range of criminal convictions. Going forward, it is likely that some immigrants will be spared deportation as a result of this decision. Though, certainly, observers will need to keep a close watch to see how this Supreme Court ruling truly impacts deportation proceedings.

Contact Our Los Angeles Immigration Lawyer Today

At the Law Office of Joshua L. Goldstein, P.C., we are committed to advocating for immigrants. If you or your loved one needs legal guidance, please call our Los Angeles office today at (213) 262-2000 for a private consultation. We represent clients throughout Southern California, including in Alhambra, Torrance, Monterey Park, and Beverly Hills.