News
By Lucy Hadley 6-27-2017

For the last five months, our national discussions about immigration have been dominated by President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and policy: His administration has increased deportations, attempted a travel ban from six majority-Muslim countries, and begun planning for a barrier along the southern border. As the Supreme Court delivers decisions for the first time in the Trump presidency, they are poised to hand down key cases on some of Trump’s immigration executive orders, along with policies from previous administrations and congressional sessions.

Here are some of the top immigration-related cases to know:

Cases we’re watching:

Jennings v. Rodriquez

This case challenges a Ninth Circuit Court ruling that immigrants could not be detained for more than six months unless immigration authorities can prove the immigrant is a danger or a flight risk. On June 26, the justices ordered a re-argument of this case, signaling that the justices were split concerning a ruling.

Hernandez v. Mesa

This case could have far-reaching implications on policing, international law, and immigration. The government argues that when Border Patrol Agent Jesus Mesa Jr. killed 15-year-old Sergio Hernandez Guerec, the protections against unlawful death by law enforcement did not apply, because Hernandez Guerec was not an American citizen and the event did not occur on American soil. On June 26, the justices vacated an earlier ruling that gave Mesa qualified immunity.

Sessions v. Dimaya

This case concerns the scope and definition of a federal immigration statute that allows deportation of non-citizens who committed an “aggravated felony.” An immigration court ruled that burglary constituted a “crime of violence,” but the Ninth Circuit Court reversed the immigration court’s decisions, stating that the term “crime of violence” is unconstitutionally vague.

Recaps of recent cases:

Sessions v. Morales-Santa (June 12)

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled that that immigration law could not apply different citizenship standards to foreign-born children of unwed citizen mothers vs. unwed citizen born fathers. Previously, mothers who lived in the U.S. for a year could transmit citizenship to their children, while fathers had to reside in the U.S. for ten years, including five years before age fourteen. The court struck down this law, citing gender-based discrimination. However, the justices held that the ten-year bar, which previously applied to children of unwed fathers, will now apply to all foreign-born children with one U.S. citizen parent, making naturalization more difficult for many.

Lee v. United States (June 23)

The petitioner in this case will be able to stay in the U.S. after the Supreme Court ruled in his favor on June 23. Lee asked and was granted the ability to vacate his plea — on the grounds that he got ineffective assistance from his lawyer, who advised him to forego trial and plead guilty to possession of ecstasy, mistakenly claiming that a plea would protect him from deportation. The plea deal made him subject to immediate deportation, and Lee said if he had known, he would have served time in U.S. prison instead, to stay close to his family. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-2 in Lee’s favor, holding that his incompetent counsel threatened Lee’s residency status.

Maslenjack v. United States (June 22)

In another positive ruling for immigrant advocates, the U.S. Supreme Court argued that citizens cannot be stripped of their citizenship for lying on their immigration paperwork. The plaintiff is a Serb who fled violence in Bosnia, and applied for refugee status before becoming a citizen in 2007. In her refugee application, she falsely stated that her husband was persecuted for avoiding conscription in the Bosnian Serb military, though in fact he did serve. Ms. Maslenjack and her husband were stripped of their citizenship and deported to Serbia. The government argued that any lie, as small as failing to disclose a speeding violation, is sufficient to rescind status.

The Supreme Court returned this case to the lower courts, arguing that the government must apply a stricter standard for stripping citizenship; for instance, the lie should be material to the acquisition of citizenship.

Ziglar v. Abbasi (June 19)

In a 4-2 ruling on June 19, the court prevented six immigrants from suing Bush-era Justice Department officials. The immigrant men were detained and “subjected to beatings, humiliating searches and other abuses” after the September 11 attacks, though the officials had no evidence to tie them to terrorism.

Rather than suing the officials, the majority offered that the plaintiffs can sue to stop the policy, or seek a writ of habeas corpus as more direct forms of relief.

Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project; Trump v. Haiti (June 26)

In an apparent victory for Trump’s travel ban, the justices rejected previous lower court orders that had blocked most of the travel and refugee restrictions. However, the justices granted an exception for “foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.” This exception will allow immigrants and refugees with ties to family, universities, and refugee resettlement agencies a path to the U.S. despite the ban.

Immigrants and their advocates are paying close attention to these rulings, and their effects on naturalization, deportation orders, and safety at the borders. But with the current Supreme Court closely divided on immigration, the outcomes of the remaining cases are up in the air.

Lucy Hadley is a Campaigns and Communications Assistant for Sojourners.

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