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U.S. Supreme Court protects Mexican immigrant from deportation

By Sam Howard
U.S. Supreme Court protects Mexican immigrant from deportation
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a lawful permanent resident who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico could not be deported after he pleaded no contest to a statutory rape offense in 2009. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

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."

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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