The Supreme Court made it harder for longtime green card holders with a criminal conviction to remain in the United States.
In their 5-4 decision that broke along ideological lines on Thursday, the justices took an expansive view of the “stop-time rule” in the case of a Jamaican national who sought to avoid deportation. That standard determines whether a lawful permanent resident has been in the country long enough to be eligible for that to happen.
The law requires that permanent residents show they’ve lived in the country for at least seven continuous years. The timeline for eligibility is stopped if, among other things, they commit a crime that renders them “inadmissible” to enter the United States.
The high court affirmed an appeals court finding that the rule kicks in regardless of whether an immigrant is actually seeking admission to the U.S. It drew a dissent from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who said that finding someone who’s already in the country inadmissible for entry is “at odds with common sense.”
Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote for the majority that removal “of a lawful permanent resident from the United States is a wrenching process, especially in light of the consequences for family members.”
But “Congress made a choice, however, to authorize removal of noncitizens—even lawful permanent residents—who have committed certain serious crimes,” Kavanaugh said, adding that the Supreme Court must defer to that.
There were approximately 13.2 million lawful permanent residents in the U.S. as of 2015, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
The court’s ruling is consistent with how most federal appellate courts and immigration judges have been reading the provision for more than 20 years, said former immigration judge Andrew Arthur, who is now at the Center for Immigration Studies.
But Maureen Sweeney, who directs the Immigration Clinic at the University of Maryland School of Law, said that those courts have a long history of resisting the breaks that Congress has tried to offer immigrants convicted of a crime.
The Supreme Court refuses to honor the balance that Congress crafted for long-time residents who have strong ties to the country, Sweeney said.
The ruling is a loss for Andre Martello Barton, who was admitted to the U.S. as a child. He was a few months short of qualifying for relief from deportation in 1996 when he was convicted of an assault charge as a teenager.
The immigration judge said she would have granted cancellation of removal and allowed Barton to stay, but for the stop-time rule.
In her dissent joined by the other three liberal justices, Sotomayor said that a “noncitizen who has already been admitted, and is not seeking readmission, cannot be charged with any ground of inadmissibility and thus cannot be deemed inadmissible.”
The statute’s “inadmissible” language was meant to address immigrants who are not green card holders, she said.
“Because those already admitted, like Barton, are often presumed to have greater connections to the country, the immigration laws use separate terms and create separate procedures for noncitizens seeking admission to the country on the one hand, and those who were previously admitted on the other,” Sotomayor said.
The case is Barton v. Barr, U.S., No. 18-725, 4/23/20.