U.S. Supreme Court Hears Argument Over Deporting Immigrants Who Commit Crimes

In the U.S., if you’re not a citizen, you can be deported if you commit certain levels of crimes. But the laws haven’t been evenly enforced, and now the Trump administration wants to go back decades.

On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case of Andre Martello Barton, a legal permanent U.S. resident from Jamaica who challenged his planned deportation for drug and gun convictions in Georgia dating back to 1996.

Barton is not an illegal immigrant, he is a permanent resident.

Barton appealed a lower court ruling that the 41-year-old father of four was ineligible to have his deportation canceled under a law that lets some longtime legal residents avoid removal for certain crimes. The court’s liberal justices seemed sympathetic toward Barton. Some conservative justices appeared inclined to agree with the government’s bid to deport him.  A ruling is due by the end of June, and could make it easier to deport thousands of immigrants with criminal convictions, even if they committed minor offenses.

Permanent residents facing deportation can apply to have their removal canceled if they have been living continuously in the United States for at least seven years, except if they have committed certain serious felonies.

At issue in the case is the meaning of a 1996 change in the law known as the “stop-time rule” that disqualifies people who commit certain crimes from this benefit by stopping the clock on their period of continuous residency.

Barton, a car repair shop manager, came to the United States as a teenager with his mother in 1989. He was convicted in 1996 of assault and possession of a firearm in an incident in which his friend shot at a house from a car he was driving. He also was convicted of drug possession in 2007 and 2008.

In 2017, immigration authorities said Barton’s deportation could not be canceled because the 1996 assault charges triggered the stop-time rule, just months before he reached the seven-year milestone. The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision in 2018.

There are more than 13 million lawful U.S. permanent residents, also known as “green card” holders, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Of the estimated 1.9 million non-citizens the government has deemed deportable based on a criminal convictions, most are legal residents or those in the country on temporary visas, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a research organization.


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