WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Thursday dealt a blow to some longtime illegal residents, upholding the deportation of a Mexican man who lived in the United States for 20 years.
By an 8-1 vote, justices said that Humberto Fernandez-Vargas, who was deported several times from the 1970s to 1981, is subject to a 1996 law Congress passed to streamline the legal process for expelling aliens who have been deported at least once before and returned.
After his last deportation in 1981, Fernandez-Vargas returned to the United States, fathered a child, started a trucking company in Utah and eventually married his longtime companion, a U.S. citizen.
But by the time he applied for legal status — after his marriage in 2001 — Congress had passed the Illegal Immigration and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which revoked the right to appeal to an immigration judge an order of removal.
Fernandez-Vargas was sent back to Mexico in 2004, and wanted to return to his family in the United States. He argued that the 1996 law should not be applied to him because he last entered America more than a decade before Congress passed the statute.
"Fernandez-Vargas continued to violate the law by remaining in this country day after day and ... the United States was entitled to bring that continuing violation to an end," Justice David Souter wrote in the decision.
Other Supreme Court rulings released on Thursday:
It was unclear how broad of an impact the ruling would have.
Souter said that unlawful immigrants like Fernandez-Vargas should have known about the 1996 law and taken "advantage of a grace period."
The case is Fernandez-Vargas v. Gonzales, 04-1376.