U.S. Supreme Court hands victory to immigrants facing deportation

Supreme Court decision opens doors for immigrants to possibly cancel their deportation

On April 29, 2021, the Supreme Court issued a decision, Niz-Chavez v. Garland, that will allow many individuals in immigration court to apply to cancel their deportation. The case was about a form of relief called Cancellation of Removal, which allows individuals in immigration court an opportunity to cancel their deportation and get a green card if they meet certain requirements, which include

  •  having 10 years in the U.S.,
  • having qualifying citizen or permanent family members, and
  • having a relatively clean criminal record, among other requirements.

The main question here was how the 10 years in the U.S. should be counted. Under immigration law, the 10 years cuts off when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) files the charging document (known as a Notice to Appear) with the immigration court. This is called the “stop-time rule.” The Notice to Appear must include important information about the immigration court proceedings, including the date and time of the first hearing. The DHS ignored this requirement because it felt it was too difficult to check with the immigration courts and see when it could schedule the first hearing. Instead, the DHS just sent the hearing notice later, and claimed that was enough to cut off the 10 years of presence in the U.S. Essentially, it said the Notice to Appear was not a single document, and it had the right to inform individuals about their proceedings in separate documents.

The Supreme Court rejected the government’s approach today in a 6-3 decision. Writing for the majority, Justice Gorsuch used rather simple reasoning to make his decision. The immigration laws refer to “a” Notice to Appear, meaning that it is a singular document. It cannot be broken into multiple documents and still be called a Notice to Appear. Justice Gorsuch shot down the government argument that it would be too difficult for them to change their practices. He states that the government often forces individuals to fill out lengthy forms and denies them if even one answer is missing. But it does not hold itself to the same standard. He writes, “If men must turn square corners when they deal with the government, it cannot be too much to expect the government to turn square corners when it deals with them.”

This is a rather narrow holding in terms of immigration law, but it will affect hundreds or thousands of people in immigration court. For years, the government has issued Notices to Appear without a hearing date. That means anyone in immigration court who has been in the U.S. for 10 years and has a Notice to Appear without a date of their first hearing is eligible to file for cancellation of removal if they otherwise meet the requirements

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