Migrants protest against the U.S. policy on immigration near a restaurant at Glacial Park in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., on July 4, 2017. (Mike Blake/Reuters)
(CNSNews.com) – On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government has the power to deny or suspend immigration relief to some 300,000 people because of the presence of “high-level” criminal records.In a 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that criminal records, which are considered to be private information, don’t have the same intrinsic value as “other essential ‘knowledge’ about a person’s character.” Justice Roberts wrote that U.S. law “manages only to determine who is likely to pose a threat, not whose means of self-protection, if any, qualify for the provision.”
The case involved foreigners with immigration-related criminal records who arrived in the United States in the 1990s and were turned away from getting legal assistance.
The judge, Juan H. Hernández, found that not only were the applicants not likely to qualify for any other sort of aid through “legal immigration,” but they were not likely to be offered humanitarian relief under the Universal Periodic Review, or UPR, mechanism that the Supreme Court established as part of the 2002 Immigration and Nationality Act.In 1992, the court ruled the UPR system “constitutional” because “government limited the reach of the UPR to consider the prospective detriment of applicants.”
Justice Roberts’ opinion mirrors the one written by Justice Anthony Kennedy in ruling the legalization of undocumented workers between 1996 and 2009.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security originally attempted to deny entry to almost 60,000 immigrants with a criminal record through the E-Verify program.
At the time, the U.S. Supreme Court held that there was nothing constitutionally wrong with the UPR mechanism.
But with the passage of the 2005 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), the terrorist threat in the country was suddenly made more severe by the new requirement that Social Security numbers be verified for all immigrants with criminal records.IRCA made explicit that deportation of immigrants with no criminal records was a priority because of “a secure homeland” and immigration law “is not a mere political document but is its core purpose of preserving the legitimacy of U.S. government.” In that final case, the high court held that the UPR procedure could not become “a mechanism to strip constitutional rights from those who crossed the border lawfully and who have been living in the United States for decades.”
The Supreme Court’s four dissenters joined Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in this case, but Justice Samuel Alito penned the dissent.
Justice Alito wrote that allowing immigration protection to continue for those with criminal records, and deeming them not likely to remain in the United States, is “fundamentally inconsistent with our commitment to stability” by providing protections.On Friday, Alito noted that the Supreme Court case was about how an act of Congress could affect one’s status in the U.S. but did not contain a specific definition of “high-level criminal record.”
He said it was “implausible” that Congress would outlaw the UPR process altogether when they had set aside the protection and simply allowed an agent of the Department of Homeland Security to consider some such information when determining whether or not an individual would be admitted to the United States.He added that there were occasions when having a record “of particular concrete criminal activity” could be considered “dissimilar to perhaps life or death.”
Alito also took aim at the purpose of UPR.
In 2014, the Supreme Court held that the rights of many individuals already in the U.S. should not be put in “humanitarian and legal” jeopardy.It was described as a “firm ruling” and maintained that Congress has the authority to “take measures to protect all Americans … with respect to substantive security, basic human rights, and individual liberty.”