Understanding semantics helps to correctly interpret law

| May 21, 2021 | Blog |

An undocumented immigrant appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court and won, giving hope to similarly situated immigrants in Texas and all other states. His case centered around the legal definition of “Notice to Appear.”

The defendant had been living in the United States for eight years when he was pulled over for a traffic violation. Because he was undocumented, his case was turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He later received two notices: one in March 2013 to appear in court in and another in June 2013 with the date and time of his scheduled hearing for deportation proceedings.

Was the 10-year continuous presence statute relevant?

At his first hearing, the defendant’s request to remain in the U.S. was denied. His eight-year presence in the country did not qualify for relief under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. Were he to have been in the country for 10 years, he may have been eligible to seek relief under legislation that gives judges discretion to allow such undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. However, this judge ruled that the defendant’s Notice to Appear stopped the clock for continuous-presence eligibility. In addition, his testimony of imminent danger if he returned to his native country failed to sway the judge in his favor.

Supreme Court ruling

The defendant’s case went up to the Supreme Court. The debate came down to what constitutes a Notice to Appear. In a 6-3 decision in his favor, the consenting Supreme Court Justices ruled that two notices, an NTA and a hearing notice, do not meet the legal definition of “Notice to Appear.” Under 8 U.S. Code 1229 (G)(i)-Initiation of removal proceedings, the statute specifically states that a Notice to Appear contains “the time and place at which the proceedings will be held.” Thus, two pieces of communication for one event, the first of which was without a date and time, were legally outside of the relevant statute according to the judges.

This case highlights the importance of statutory language, semantics and knowledgeable interpreters of the law. Deportation orders are serious matters and can permanently alter an immigrant’s life. Should you or a loved one be in this situation, it is wise to consult with an immigration attorney.