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U.S. Supreme Court Deliberates Legal Meaning of Violent Crimes and Immigration Policies

barbed-wire-765484_640-300x199The Supreme Court of the United States recently deliberated on the legal definition of a “crime of violence,” also known as an “aggravated felony,” a decision in the immigration case, Lynch v. Dimaya, which could affect the fate of immigrants in the United States.

According to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), committing a crime of violence serves as an irrevocable grounds for deportation from U.S. soil. The act takes its definition of violent crime from U.S. Code Title 18 Section 16b, contested by Joseph Dimaya’s counsellor as being “unconstitutionally vague” in the pursuit of a “void for vagueness” defense.

Joseph Dimaya is a Filipino immigrant who arrived in the United States in 1992 and later acquired permanent resident status. At present, he faces two aggravated felony charges from two separate counts of burglary occurring in 2007 and 2009, both of which he plead no contest to.

He technically, however, did not physically hurt anyone in the process of said robberies. Nonetheless, an aggravated felony charge counts as a crime of violence following the present interpretation of the deemed-vague section. The Department of Homeland Security has since initiated Mr. Dimaya’s deportation—a decision backed by an immigration judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals.

His deportation was halted in 2016 when he filed a petition in the Ninth Circuit, bringing a void for vagueness challenge to the “crime of violence” definition stipulated in both the US Code and INA. The Ninth and Tenth Circuit have both since found the clause to be unconstitutionally vague, applying the ruling on Johnson v. United States regarding a vague residual clause almost identical to that in the INA. This has propelled the case and the definition in question to the Supreme Court for final resolution.

Before this success, however, came counterarguments. Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler, for example, drew the line between standards of “vagueness” in criminal and immigration proceedings to disenfranchise the Johnson case. Justice Elena Keagan had also remarked that the Dimaya case would only resolve in a similar change of definition with Johnson.

Not only is Dimaya, as a noncitizen, potentially preventing his own deportation; his so-far well-received “vagueness” claim may change the fates of countless other immigrants charged similarly as it makes its way to the highest court of the land. As you can see, this has sizeable implications for immigration and immigrants themselves all over the country.

If you or a loved one risks deportation on the grounds of an aggravated felony charge and want to know what your legal options are, we encourage you to schedule a consultation with the immigration law team of the Lyttle Law Firm. Call our offices today at (512) 215.5225 to talk to immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle.