WASHINGTON (CN) — An immigrant who is facing deportation for having consensual sex with his underage girlfriend won a reversal Tuesday from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Juan Esquivel-Quintana came to the United States with his parents on an immigrant visa in 2000 at the age of 12. Though he became a lawful permanent resident, the Department of Homeland Security initiated removal proceedings against him about a decade later for committing an aggravated felony.
Esquivel-Quintana drew the government’s scrutiny after pleaded no contest in 2009 to violating a California law by having consensual sex with his girlfriend. Esquivel-Quintana was 20 at the time; the girl was nearly 17.
Though sexual abuse of a minor is a deportable offense under federal immigration law, California is distinct from 43 other states and the District of Columbia in qualifying the conduct at issue — sex between a 21-year-old and someone who is almost 18 — as such.
Esquivel-Quintana took his case to the Supreme Court this past February after his deportation challenge bottomed out at the Board of Immigration Appeals and the Sixth Circuit.
Reversing in his favor this morning, the U.S. Supreme Court was nearly unanimous that the offense in question is not considered a felony under the federal Immigration and Nationality Act.
“We agree with petitioner that, in the context of statutory rape offenses that criminalize sexual intercourse based solely on the age of the participants, the generic federal definition of sexual abuse of a minor requires that the victim be younger than 16,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court. “Because the California statute at issue in this case does not categorically fall within that definition, a conviction pursuant to it is not an aggravated felony under §1101(a)(43)(A).”
Justice Neil Gorsuch did not participate in the court’s consideration or decision of the case.
Relief for Esquivel-Quintana, a Mexican national, comes amid escalated deportation efforts by the Trump administration, which is working to ramp up criminal removals and expand the categories of people deported.
“Absent some special relationship of trust, consensual sexual conduct involving a younger partner who is at least 16 years of age does not qualify as sexual abuse of a minor under the INA, regardless of the age differential between the two participants,” Thomas added. “We leave for another day whether the generic offense requires a particular age differential between the victim and the perpetrator, and whether the generic offense encompasses sexual intercourse involving victims over the age of 16 that is abusive because of the nature of the relationship between the participants.”