Immigrant With Arson Rap Loses Court Battle

     WASHINGTON (CN) — The U.S. Supreme Court denied relief Thursday to a Dominican man seeking to cancel his deportation over an attempted-arson conviction.
     Jorge Luna Torres was a lawful permanent resident of the United States when a New York court convicted him in 1999 of third-degree attempted arson.
     Though he served just one day in prison, U.S. immigration officials sought to deport Luna on the basis of this conviction seven years later.
     A judge then found that Luna’s conviction constituted an “aggravated felony,” and denied him cancellation of removal.
     After the Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed, the Second Circuit refused to intervene, deferring to the agency’s finding that a state-law offense need not contain a federal jurisdictional element to qualify as an “offense described in” Section 844(i) of Title 18, thus constituting an aggravated felony.
     The U.S. Supreme Court took up the case last year to decide whether a state crime counts as an aggravated felony when it corresponds to a specified federal offense in all ways but one.
     Though Luna’s state crime lacks the interstate commerce element used in the federal statute to establish legislative jurisdiction, the court found “the absence of such a jurisdictional element … immaterial.”
     The court split 5-3 in affirming Thursday, saying “the essential harm of the crime is the same irrespective of state borders.”
     “Why, for example, would Congress see an alien who carried out a kidnapping for ransom wholly within a state as materially less dangerous than one who crossed state lines in committing that crime?” asks the lead opinion by Justice Elena Kagan.
     Interstate commerce elements should be understood “to connect a given substantive offense to one of Congress’s enumerated powers,” the 21-page ruling continues.
     They do not serve to distinguish “greater from lesser evils,” Kagan added.
     Kagan also said that Luna’s argument contravenes the central message of Section 1101(a)(43)’s penultimate sentence: “that the national, local, or foreign character of a crime has no bearing on whether it is grave enough to warrant an alien’s automatic removal.”
     Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer joined the dissent by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
     Without triggering the interstate commerce element of the federal arson statute, Sotomayor said, “Luna thus was not convicted of an offense ‘described in’ the federal statute. Case closed.”
     Precedent and the Immigration and Nationality Act wholly foreclose today’s outcome, Sotomayor argued.
     “On the majority’s reading, long-time legal permanent residents with convictions for minor state offenses are foreclosed from even appealing to the mercy of the attorney general,” the dissent concludes. “Against our standard method for comparing statutes and the text and structure of the INA, the majority stacks a supposed superfluity, a not-so-well-settled practice, and its conviction that jurisdictional elements are mere technicalities. But an element is an element, and I would not so lightly strip a federal statute of one. I respectfully dissent.”

%d bloggers like this: