May 30 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court issued a near-unanimous verdict Tuesday that protected from deportation a Mexican immigrant who pleaded no contest to statutory rape.
Juan Esquivel-Quintana migrated to Sacramento, Calif., with his parents in 2000 and became a lawful permanent resident. When he was 20, he had sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend and in 2009 pleaded no contest in a California court to "unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor who is more than three years younger than the perpetrator."
That conviction prompted deportation proceedings from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In ruling that Esquivel-Quintana should be deported, an immigration judge said Esquivel-Quintana's conviction met the federal definition of "sexual abuse of a minor."
The U.S. Justice Department's Board of Immigration Appeals agreed with that judge's decision, saying Esquivel-Quintana could be deported because the offense was as an aggravated felony. An appeals court later denied Esquivel-Quintana's request to review the case.
But the U.S. Supreme Court overruled those decisions on Tuesday, saying that the conviction did not qualify as "sexual abuse of a minor" because Esquivel-Quintana's girlfriend was 16 at the time of the incident.
Because the U.S. Supreme Court said the offense was not clearly defined in the federal Immigration and Nationality Act, Esquivel-Quintana does not have to face deportation.
"If those acts do not constitute sexual abuse of a minor under the INA, then petitioner was not convicted of an aggravated felony and is not, on that basis, removable," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the court's majority opinion.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was not confirmed by the U.S. Senate until after attorneys argued the case in February, was not involved in the decision.