Supreme Court to Decide Deportation Case of Filipino Immigrant

By Reuben S. Seguritan

January 20, 2017


A lot of people dream of becoming a lawful permanent resident (LPR) in the United States (US). This status is one step away from becoming a US citizen. As an LPR, there are a lot of benefits and also responsibilities. The benefits include being able to work and live permanently in the US, being eligible for social security benefits, and travelling to certain countries without an additional visa. The responsibilities of an LPR include filing and paying taxes every year and upholding the US Constitution.  He must abide by the law and not commit any crime that will make him removable.

If an LPR commits a crime, there could be repercussions in his status as an LPR. One of the possible consequences is deportation.

In a case pending before the United States Supreme Court entitled Lynch v. Dimaya, the US government is trying to deport James Dimaya, an LPR with Philippine citizenship, for having been convicted in 2007 and 2009 of first-degree residential burglaries in California. He was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison for each of the offenses. These convictions, according to the Department of Homeland Security, constitute crimes of violence under US immigration law, and hence, it could be a ground to remove him from the US.

During his deportation hearing before the immigration court, the judge in the case agreed with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that the crimes he committed constituted crimes of violence. He was ordered removed from the US. On appeal, the Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed the decision to deport him.

The law provides that a conviction for an aggravated felony is a ground for deportation. Offenses involving theft and burglary may constitute an aggravated felony if the term of imprisonment is at least one year.

On appeal of the case, a divided United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the statutory definition for crime of violence was unconstitutionally vague, and hence, did not uphold the deportation order of Dimaya.  The court looked at the elements and nature of the offense of conviction, rather than on the particular facts relating to what he did. In its analysis, the court cited the United States Supreme Court case of Johnson v. United States. This 2015 case held that the residual clause defining what constituted a violent felony in the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) was both unpredictable and arbitrary.

It is worth monitoring the progress of the Lynch v. Dimaya case pending in the US Supreme Court because the outcome will have major consequences to immigration law and policy. If the US Supreme Court decides in favor of the DHS and the US government that Dimaya should be deported, then that means residential burglaries are crimes of violence which is a ground for removal. On the other hand, if the US Supreme Court decides to uphold the ruling of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, then LPRs who are convicted of residential burglaries cannot be deported on the ground of having committed a crime of violence.

In the former scenario, the power of the US government to deport criminals will be strengthened. However, if the latter scenario occurs, then the US government might find it more difficult to deport criminals who are convicted of burglary and other serious crimes.