Supreme Court Decision Offers Mixed Results for Immigration Reform
by The Opportunity Agenda, Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 07:58:39 AM EDT
In a victory for immigrants' rights, the Supreme Court handed down a decision allowing immigrants to file motions without fear of being deported for not voluntarily departing within a specific time period. The case, Dada v. Mukasey addressed two conflicting sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Section 1229c allows judges to grant immigrants who are told to deport the country permission to leave voluntarily within a specific period of time. However, Section 1229a allows individuals to challenge a deportation order (in the event of any changed circumstances) but requires them to remain in the country while legal motions are pending.
The petitioner, Samson T. Dada, an immigrant from Nigeria, was married to an American citizen in 1999. However, without adequate proof of marriage, the Department of Homeland Security alleged that he had overstayed his temporary immigrant visa and ordered his deportation. An Immigration Judge granted Dada's request to voluntarily leave the country within 30 days, a decision that the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) affirmed. However, two days before he was supposed to leave, Dada found conclusive proof of his marriage, withdrew his request for voluntary departure and filed a motion to reopen his removal proceedings. The BIA denied his request, claiming that Dada had failed to depart the U.S. within the allotted time period (while ignoring Dada's withdrawal of his request to voluntarily leave). The Fifth Circuit affirmed the BIA's decision.
Dada filed a writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court on the grounds that the Fifth Circuit Court decision contradicted other Circuit Courts that found immigrants should be able to file motions to reopen their cases, and found that their decisions to file should override their previous decision to voluntarily leave the U.S.
The Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of Dada, finding that immigrants must be allowed an opportunity to withdraw their request for voluntary departure (as long as they do so before the end of their allotted departure period).
In addition, the Court articulated the inefficiencies and complications in the immigration process - Justice Kennedy said in his majority opinion:
A more expeditious solution to the untenable conflict between the voluntary departure scheme and the motion to reopen might be to permit an alien who has departed the United States to pursue a motion to reopen post departure, much as Congress has permitted with respect to judicial review of a removal order.
Much of The Opportunity Agenda's work to promote opportunity for all has been related to immigration reform. Immigration Reform: Promoting Opportunity for All discusses the discrimination that immigrants face every day as they are treated as unequal members of society:
True opportunity requires that we all have equal access to the benefits, burdens, and responsibilities of our society. In order to fully contribute and participate in society, immigrants and the native born alike should be treated equally regardless of race, gender, religion, country of origin, and other aspects of what they look like and where they come from. But too often immigrants are treated unfairly.
The document also emphasizes the importance of immigrants' roles in strengthening communities across America:
American communities are strengthened by immigrants from all over the world. Newcomers' economic contributions are immense, while their cultural and personal contributions improve all aspects of American life.
The Dada case addresses the importance of allowing immigrants to be full and equal members of American society. Without having access to proper legal services, and with relentless discrimination from Courts, immigrants will continue to face barriers to achieving their full potential.
Many people have joined The Opportunity Agenda in calling for reform of the immigration process. One of these individuals is the Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner - he described the U.S. immigration court system as "inadequate" and "ill-trained" in an article in The National Law Journal.
If even an established and admired judge in the U.S. is making such harsh criticisms of the immigration court system and the extent of legal remedies immigrants can seek, then it is clear it is time for the system to be reformed. This reform cannot come fast enough; until it does, there will be more and more individuals trying to fight their way through an unjust system.
Any reform might be too late for Dada - while the Supreme Court ruled that Dada was able to withdraw his request for voluntary departure, the Court did not grant his request to reopen his removal proceedings (it remanded the case back to the lower court). The BIA could still choose to deport him. While Dada's case brought a victory for many U.S. immigrants, it has not yet brought him the legal right to remain in the U.S.