Noncitizens with certain criminal convictions may be inadmissible to the U.S., deportable from the U.S., or unable to obtain U.S. citizenship through naturalization.
The categories of criminal convictions which cause immigration problems have grown over time, sometimes through new laws written by Congress and sometimes because of how courts interpret existing laws.
Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions from 2013, Descamps v. United States, and Moncrieffe v. Holder, took a huge step toward stopping the slow creep. Taken together, the two cases mean that in most cases, the government cannot go beyond the language of the statute of conviction to try to prove that a conviction involved something worse than the words used in the statute itself.
Only where the statute is divisible, meaning that there are multiple sets of elements within the statute which could be sufficient for conviction, can the courts go beneath the plain language of the statute.
On January 19, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider Mathis v. United States, which should resolve the confusion and disagreement amongst courts about when a statute is “divisible” and can therefore allow consideration of case-specific information in the record of conviction.
Practically, this case will likely determine whether many crimes around the country can be considered deportable offenses. For example, whether convictions under Colorado’s Third Degree Assault statute make a noncitizen deportable has long been the subject of disagreement and litigation. The Mathis case, which is expected to decide in June, has the potential to resolve this question one way or the other. The impact of this decision on noncitizens with criminal convictions is difficult to overstate. We will be watching closely.
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