AIC Applauds Supreme Court Decision Rejecting Retroactive Application of Immigration Law Provision


morning, the Supreme Court issued an important decision,Vartelas v. Holder, No. 10-1211,

rejecting the retroactive application of a provision of a law passed by

Congress in 1996 that has prevented many lawful permanent residents (LPRs) from

returning to the United

States after a trip abroad. Citing the

“deeply rooted presumption” against applying new laws retroactively,

the Court ruled 6-3 that LPRs who temporarily leave the country cannot be

denied readmission on account of criminal convictions that occurred before the

law took effect. 

The Justice Department argued that LPRs with certain criminal convictions may

be barred from re-entering the United States any time they leave the

country—even if the law in effect at the time of their guilty pleas did not

make them eligible for deportation or ineligible for reentry to the United

States. The Supreme Court properly rejected this argument, noting that the

government’s interpretation effectively prevented such LPRs from ever leaving

the country.

The following is a statement from Benjamin Johnson, Executive Director of the

American Immigration Council:

“The Supreme Court’s decision properly recognizes that legal immigrants should

not be subjected to penalties that did not exist at the time they entered a

criminal plea. The government’s argument that green card holders who pled

guilty to crimes prior to 1997 could avoid the adverse consequences of the law

by simply staying home makes no sense. As Justice Ginsburg noted in the

majority opinion, loss of the ability to travel abroad could prevent such

individuals from fulfilling religious obligations or responding to family

emergencies. The Supreme Court’s ruling affirms the well-established principle

that the government cannot change the rules in the middle of the game.”


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