US Supreme Court Sides With Illegal Alien in Dispute Over Deportation Process

By Matthew Vadum   April 29, 2021 Updated: April 29, 2021

The Supreme Court rejected the federal government’s effort to move forward with the deportation of a failed refugee claimant who argued he shouldn’t be removed from the United States because official paperwork was incomplete.

The Trump administration, in office when the case was argued Nov. 9, 2020, favored deportation in this instance. Up to 4,000 immigrants every year are reportedly eligible to receive what the government calls “cancellation of removal” to avoid splitting up families. The government’s loss may make it more difficult to deport certain categories of illegal aliens.

The 6-3 vote in the case, Niz-Chavez v. Barr, court file 19-863, evenly divided the 6-member conservative bloc on the court.

Justice Neil Gorsuch delivered the court’s opinion, in which conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Amy Coney Barrett, joined, along with liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote a dissenting opinion that was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.

Agusto Niz-Chavez is an illegal alien from Guatemala who was born in 1990. He entered the United States in 2005 and has misdemeanor convictions for driving without a license. He has three young children, all of whom are U.S. citizens.

Niz-Chavez was served with two government documents that together established the time and date of his deportation hearing.

But the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) mandates that the government must serve “a notice to appear” on individuals it wishes to remove from the country.

Gorsuch’s opinion centers on the indefinite article “a” in the noun phrase “a notice to appear.” The use of “a” implies a single document containing all of the relevant information, the court held.

“At one level, today’s dispute may seem semantic, focused on a single word, a small one at that,” Gorsuch wrote.

“But words are how the law constrains power. In this case, the law’s terms ensure that, when the federal government seeks a procedural advantage against an individual, it will at least supply him with a single and reasonably comprehensive statement of the nature of the proceedings against him.”

If people “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.”

In his dissent, Kavanaugh wrote that Niz-Chavez “received written notice of the charges and all the required information, including the time and place of his hearing.”

Despite this, the majority interpreted “a notice to appear” in a way that “spawns a litany of absurdities” that “will impose substantial costs and burdens on the immigration system.”

This is a developing story. It will be updated.

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