On March 23, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Guerrero-Lasprilla v. Barr that lower courts may review how immigration agencies applied the law in certain deportation cases. The court consolidated this case with Ovalles v. Barr, which posed the same question.
The court ruled that deciding whether a deportee diligently pursued immigration officials to reopen his or her case was a _question of law_. Congress limited judicial review of agency decisions to deport people when the person deported has committed certain crimes. The U.S. Supreme Court held that the question of law at issue in this case fell outside those congressional limits.
In 1998, Pedro Pablo Guerrero-Lasprilla, a Colombian national living in the United States, was deported after being convicted of aggravated felonies. In 2016, he asked to reopen his removal proceedings. An immigration judge denied Guerrero-Lasprilla’s petition on the grounds that it was untimely. Later, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the petition, saying that it lacked jurisdiction to decide the case.
Ruben Ovalles, a native and citizen of the Dominican Republic, entered the United States in 1985 as a lawful permanent resident. In 2004, he was deported as an aggravated felon. In 2007, Ovalles filed a motion to reopen his removal proceedings. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) denied the motion. On appeal, the 5th Circuit upheld the BIA’s motion. In 2016, Ovalles filed a second motion to reopen his removal proceedings. The BIA and the 5th Circuit again denied Ovalles’ petition.
The U.S. Supreme Court vacated the 5th Circuit’s decisions and remanded the cases back to that court. Justice Stephen Breyer delivered the opinion of the court joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a dissenting opinion, joined in part by Justice Samuel Alito. Thomas argued that the majority expanded the scope of judicial review beyond the textual and structural boundaries set by Congress.
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