(CN) – The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed that the United States can remove a Japanese couple convicted on corporate tax fraud charges.
In 1997, 13 years after Akio Kawashima and Fusako Kawashima entered the United States as lawful permanent residents, they pleaded guilty to defrauding the government of more than $245,100 through a false tax return.
An immigration judge ruled that the convictions were aggravated felonies that made the Kawashimas removable. The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed that decision and ordered the couple removed to Japan.
The 9th Circuit considered the Kawashimas’ cases separately, as they pleaded guilty to different charges with the wife admitting to aiding and assisting. Ultimately, and after some rehearings, the court ruled that husband was removable, and it remanded the wife’s petition so that the immigration court could determine what net loss her crime cost the government.
On appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Kawashimas said the 9th Circuit holding contradicted that of other circuits.
“If Mr. and Mrs. Kawashima were residents of Pennsylvania, New Jersey or Delaware, the plea agreements to which they stipulated would have concluded the proceeding with finality and resulted in no further punishment, having paid their debt for any wrongdoing,” their brief to the Supreme Court states. “Instead, they face in addition the irreversible sanction of exile because of an ambiguous statute which has divided Circuit Judges of the United States Courts of Appeals.”
But a majority of the high court disagreed Tuesday. Justice Clarence Thomas authored the 11-page decision, which summarily dispatched with each point the Kawashimas had raised.
In a dissenting opinion joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the majority’s construction of the relevant statute “dubious.”
“The court’s reading sweeps a wide variety of federal, state, and local tax offenses -including misdemeanors – into the ‘aggravated felony’ category,” Ginsburg wrote. “In addition, today’s decision may discourage aliens from pleading guilty to tax offenses less grave than tax evasion, thereby complicating and delaying enforcement of the internal revenue laws.”