On April 17, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in the case of Sessions v. Dimaya, which effectively struck down a law called the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) as being void for vagueness. In other words, the provisions of ACCA that had been used to render immigrants deportable were held to be too vague to be used as applicable immigration law. The question many might ask is whether or not this ruling could affect pending cases before an immigration judge.
Aggravated Felonies and ACCA
The Armed Career Criminal Act was passed in 1984, and it grants the power to courts to impose additional sentence enhancements on felons who commit three or more violent felonies or “serious drug offenses,” allowing for a 15-year minimum instead of a 10-year minimum. This law’s residual clause has also been construed as holding that immigrants who qualify for sentencing enhancements under the ACCA are removable, because ‘crimes of violence’ or violent felonies almost always qualify as deportable offenses under the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA).
U.S. immigration law is notoriously vague and complex, with no real guidance as to what constitutes a deportable offense — these are referred to in immigration law as aggravated felonies, but depending on the state, many of these do not have to be aggravated or felonies. Immigrants only learn, in many situations, that they have committed this type of crime upon their arrest. This was the case for James Dimaya, the appellant in the Supreme Court case.
What it Means For You
This decision means that courts will likely be much more stringent about immigration authorities setting out a very clear and specific reason for an immigrant’s deportability. Before this ruling, deportation would be all but assured once a person was found guilty of an aggravated felony, because crimes of violence as defined in ACCA would not be eligible for prosecutorial discretion or other forms of cancellation of removal. The Supreme Court focused on this point in particular, because if someone is surprised by the removal proceedings and then has no opportunity to seek relief from removal, it can be seen as a violation of due process rights.
That said, it is important to understand that this ruling will not affect undocumented immigrants, because the mere state of being undocumented means you are removable — you do not have to commit a crime to get to that point. If you are documented, however, this ruling may help you because it restricts the number of crimes that can be used as justification to remove you. If you commit a very obviously violent crime like murder or rape, you will still almost certainly be removed; however, lesser offenses may not necessarily be seen as grounds for deportation, especially if you have legal status and U.S. citizen relatives.
Call an Experienced Attorney Today
Despite the favorable ruling in Sessions v. Dimaya, anyone who is in removal proceedings should still be very cautious when navigating through removal proceedings, and should enlist a knowledgeable immigration attorney as soon as possible. The talented Chicago deportation defense attorneys at Mevorah Law Offices LLC can sit down with you and try to help answer any questions you may have. Contact our office today to set up a free consultation.
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