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U.S. Supreme Court Holds the Law That Makes Noncitizens Who Have Committed “Crimes of Violence” Deportable is Unconstitutional

On April 17, 2018, in the case Sessions v. Dimaya, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that part of the U.S. immigration law is unconstitutional. Specifically, the Court held that the law making a noncitizen removable (also known as deportable) for having been convicted of a “crime of violence” was unconstitutionally vague. Essentially, the decision now limits the crimes that can serve as the basis for deportation.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is the law that defines much of the U.S.’s immigration law. It lays out grounds that make someone “inadmissible” to the U.S. as well as grounds that make someone “removable” from the U.S. after they were admitted.

One of the grounds that can make someone removable is having been convicted of an “aggravated felony.” One type of aggravated felony is a “crime of violence,” which is, in part, defined as “any offense that is a felony, and by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of the offense.” There is no specific list of what constitutes a “crime of violence.” Instead, courts have analyzed whether a crime’s “ordinary case” would pose such risk that it would be a crime of violence. In Sessions v. Dimaya, the Court concluded that the term “crime of violence” was “unconstitutionally vague.” The “ordinary case” analysis is too speculative.

Such vagueness can lead to problems of unpredictability and arbitrariness. It also deprives noncitizens of fair notice of what could qualify as a “crime of violence” and make them removable. The Court held that this law violated noncitizens’ right to due process. Immigration advocates have stated that this ruling is very important and could spare “thousands of people from deportation.”

Bella Clark