SCOTUS: Immigration law not retroactive

March 28, 2012 at 5:43 PM

WASHINGTON, March 28 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday changes in immigration law cannot be retroactively applied to keep resident aliens from returning after trips abroad.

In a 6-3 opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court sent back to the lower courts a case involving a Greek immigrant convicted of a felony 1994, two years before Congress changed immigration law to forbid automatic re-entry by lawful resident aliens convicted of crimes.

The case involved Panagis Vartelas, a New York auto body shop owner who regularly traveled to Greece to visit is aging parents. Vartelas pleaded guilty in 1994 to conspiracy to make or possess a counterfeit security. In 2003, following a weeklong visit to his parents, an immigration officer questioned him about the 1994 conviction and he subsequently was served with a removal notice.

"The government suggests that Vartelas could have avoided any adverse consequences if he simply stayed at home in the United States," Ginsburg wrote. "But losing the ability to travel abroad is itself a harsh penalty, made all the more devastating if it means enduring separation from close family members. …

"We have rejected arguments for retroactivity in similar cases, and in cases in which the loss at stake was less momentous."

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