The Trump administration’s efforts to get convicted criminal aliens off of our streets and out of the country was dealt a setback this week, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A majority in Sessions v. Dimaya held that a part of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) used to deport criminal aliens was unconstitutionally “vague.” Fortunately, this is a problem Congress could easily remedy with a very simple legislative fix. Only those opposed to safeguarding the public from convicted felons could possibly oppose it.
At issue was a provision of the INA that defines what a “crime of violence” is for purposes of removal proceedings. Under federal law, if an alien is convicted of an “aggravated felony,” he is subject to deportation even if he is in the country legally. The INA has a long list of specific offenses that fit the “aggravated felony” definition, one of which is a “crime of violence” punishable by at least a year in prison.
The man at the center of this case, James Dimaya, is a lawful permanent resident alien from the Philippines. The U.S. moved to deport him after his second felony conviction for first-degree burglary under California law. An immigration court ordered Dimaya’s deportation because it found that first-degree burglary met the “crime of violence” definition.
Why? Because a “crime of violence” is further defined in federal law as any felony that poses “a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.”
The immigration court believed that such a risk is present in a first-degree burglary when a criminal is breaking into an occupied residence. However, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the law was unconstitutionally vague. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote an insightful concurring opinion in which he talked about the dangers of vague laws like this one that can lead to the arbitrary exercise of governmental power: