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Supreme Court Makes It Harder For Undocumented Immigrants To Fight Deportation

National Guard troops keep watch Thursday at the Supreme Court.
National Guard troops keep watch Thursday at the Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday made it more difficult for undocumented immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for a long time to fight deportation. The court's 5-to-3 ruling came in the case of a man who had lived in the U.S. for 25 years but who had used a fake Social Security card to get a job as a janitor.

Clemente Pereida was fined $100 under Nebraska state law after he pleaded no contest to the crime of "attempted criminal impersonation." The lower courts ruled the conviction was enough to trigger his deportation because it was a crime of "moral turpitude" under state law.

That finding, in turn, meant that Pereida was ruled ineligible when he appealed to the attorney general to cancel his deportation because of the impact it would have on his son, a U.S. citizen, and the rest of his family. The attorney general does have such discretion but not if the applicant has been found guilty of a crime of "moral turpitude."

In an opinion written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the Supreme Court said the burden was on Pereida to show that in his case the facts did not amount to moral turpitude, and that he had failed to do that.

The decision rejected Pereida's argument that his crime did not fit into that category, and that if it did, the burden was on the government to prove that.

By putting the burden on Pereida, the court not only made it more difficult for undocumented immigrants to get special dispensations from the attorney general, the court also made it more difficult to fight the grounds for deportation in the first place.

Writing for the three dissenters, Justice Stephen Breyer said that "given the vast number of different state misdemeanors, plea agreements made long ago, cursory state records," and the "imperfect memories" of state officials long departed from their jobs, there is a "real risk of adding time and complexity to immigration proceedings," making them "less fair and less predictable."

Stanford law professor Lucas Guttentag, who served as a senior counselor to the secretary of Homeland Security in the Obama administration, said Thursday's ruling would amount to a "one-way street" making it more likely that undocumented immigrants will be deported for relatively minor state crimes.

Cornell law professor Stephen Yale-Loer agreed. Co-author of a 21-volume treatise on immigration law, Yale-Loer said the court's decision "increases the burden of proof on immigrants in deportation proceedings."

Joining Justice Gorsuch's majority opinion were four of the court's conservatives — Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Brett Kavanaugh.

Joining Breyer's dissent were liberal justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not participate in the the decision.

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