Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court continues to embolden the Trump agenda

FELICIA J. PERSAUD | 5/7/2020, midnight
It is hard to believe that in the current coronavirus crisis, where immigrant workers are expected to keep working on ...
U.S. Supreme Court Image by skeeze from Pixabay

It is hard to believe that in the current coronavirus crisis, where immigrant workers are expected to keep working on farms and at meat packing plants and DREAMERS are on the frontlines of the war against the virus, that the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative justices would keep on emboldening the Trump anti-immigrant agenda.

But that is exactly what happened recently amid the numerous stresses and distractions of this pandemic. A 5-4 ruling with conservative Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts agreeing with the Justice Department, has now made it quite easier for the administration to deport legal immigrants who have committed ANY crimes, even minor ones, from the United States.

For years, permanent residents selected for deportation could have applied to have their removal canceled if they had not committed certain serious felonies and had been living continuously in the United States for at least seven years.

But the latest SCOTUS ruling in the case of a legal green-card-holding Caribbean immigrant, who has now been deported back to Jamaica, will now make it easier for federal authorities to deport certain immigrants who have committed even minor crimes.

The case involved Jamaican immigrant Andre Martello Barton, 42, a father of four and a repair shop manager in Georgia. Barton came to the United States as a teenager with his mother in 1989. He was convicted in Georgia in 1996 of assault and possession of a firearm in an incident in which his friend shot at a house from a car he was driving. And in 2007 and 2008, he was also convicted of drug possession.

Amid the Trump executive order and stepped up deportation policies, immigration authorities decided Barton was deportable in 2017 because of his past crimes. They also said his deportation could not be canceled because the 1996 assault charges triggered the stop-time rule, just months before he reached the seven-year milestone.

At issue in the case was the meaning of the 1996 U.S. immigration law change––known as the “stop-time rule.” This provision disqualifies immigrants who commit certain crimes from this discretionary benefit by stopping the clock on their period of continuous residency.

Barton appealed at the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals but they upheld the decision in 2018. Barton’s attorney then took the case all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing that his client could not be found inadmissible because he had already been lawfully admitted to the U.S.

The conservatives on the SCOTUS bench disagreed and agreed with the Lower Court’s decision in a ruling that now not only led to Barton’s being deported but that will have severe consequences on all other legal immigrants who have committed any crimes and face deportation.

“Congress made a choice, to authorize removal of non-citizens—even lawful permanent residents—who have committed certain serious crimes. ...The immigration laws enacted by Congress do not allow cancellation of removal when a lawful permanent resident has amassed a criminal record of this kind,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in the court’s majority opinion.

“We affirm the judgment of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit,” Kavanaugh added, joined by Thomas, Gorsuch, Alito and Roberts even as the liberal justices voted against the decision.

Now the ruling makes the Barton v. Barr decision precedence and could affect thousands of immigrants with criminal convictions––many for minor offenses––who reside legally in the United States.

The ruling does not auger well for the upcoming Supreme Court on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or DREAMERS program, that is expected to rule by the end of June but could act sooner. It will be the most watched ruling of this Court.

The writer is publisher of NewsAmericasNow.