Justices Rule Deadline for Deportations Fluid

     (CN) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that federal appeals courts can decide whether people facing deportation should be able to extend the deadlines in immigration proceedings.
     The case, which came to the court via the Fifth Circuit, concerns Noel Reyes Mata, a citizen of Mexico who was ordered removed from the United States in 2010 after he pleaded guilty to an assault charge.
     Mata appealed the decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals, but saw his petition dismissed after his attorney failed to file a brief within the 90 days required.
     A second attorney tried to reopen the case, but the board refused to allow it.
     Mata then turned to the Fifth Circuit. In his brief to the court, Mata Acknowledged his motion to reopen to case was filed outside the allotted time, but he maintained the board should have equitably tolled the filing period because it was his original attorney’s failure that deprived him of his right to appeal.
     But the three-judge appellate panel held that it lacked jurisdiction to review the Board of Immigration Appeals’ decision. That decision was at odds with rulings in 10 other circuit courts, setting the stage for Supreme Court review.
     On Monday, in an 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court said the Fifth Circuit got it wrong.
     “An alien ordered to leave the country has a statutory right to file a motion to reopen his removal proceedings,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the majority. “If immigration officials deny that motion, a federal court of appeals has jurisdiction to consider a petition to review their decision.”
     She went on to say that notwithstanding this rule, “the court … declined to take jurisdiction over such an appeal because the motion to reopen had been denied as untimely. We hold that was error.”
     Justice Clarence Thomas was the lone dissenter, and as such said he would have vacated and remanded the Fifth Circuit decision “without the burden of what appears to be a categorical rule demanding that Mata’s motion be construed (or recharacterized) as a request for sua sponte reopening. Because the majority does more than this by reversing the judgment below, I respectfully dissent.”

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