The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] in two cases on Wednesday, both dealing with different aspects of immigration. In Holder v. Sawyers [transcript, PDF; JURIST report], consolidated with Holder v. Gutierrez, the court heard arguments on whether alien children of legal residents can have their parents' years in the country imputed to them for the purposes of obtaining citizenship. The court also considered whether the children were citizens while they had residence with the legal parent. The Solicitor General argued that 8 USC § 1229b(a) [text] has always been clear that about requirements for resident and it implies that parents' residency does not automatically impute on to a child, which has been upheld through the discretion of the Board of Immigration Appeals consistently. The respondents' attorney argued that since the statute was silent as to imputation, it was inherently ambiguous: "the ambiguity arises because the requirements for which there is imputation, status and residency, are matters that are not within the capacity or the control of a minor. A minor does not decide whether or when a parent will apply for [lawful permanent resident] status for him or her."
The court also considered Vartelas v. Holder [transcript, PDF; JURIST report], to decide whether Rosenberg v. Fleuti [opinion text] should be applied to plaintiff Panagis Vartelas instead of current immigration law that repeals the law settled in Fleuti. Rosenberg v. Fleuti held that a permanent legal resident can make "innocent, casual, and brief" trips abroad without being denied reentry. But this interpreted law was changed by 8 USC § 1101(a)(13)(C)(v) [text], which holds that a permanent resident can be denied reentry if he has committed a crime of "moral turpitude" in the past. Vartelas pleaded guilty to a crime before the law was ratified and then left the US briefly and was denied reentry. Vartelas' attorney argued that the statute does not mandate retroactive application explicitly, as well as the relative fairness of the statute: "Covered lawful permanent residents could not visit their parents abroad without being forced to abandon their children here. They would be removed from the country or else confined here. Either way, they would lose an ability they had under pre-IIRIRA law based on pre-IIRIRA offenses. Thus applying the subsection to them would be impermissibly retroactive." The attorney for the Solicitor General argued that the law applied regardless, because Vartelas took the trip after the law was promulgated, and thus had constructive notice. Chief Justice John Roberts argued with the Solicitor General's lawyer about the peculiarity of the law itself: "Counsel, I have to—I just don't understand this statute. This is somebody we would not allow into the country. And yet the only thing we say is: You can't leave. I just don't understand how that—how that works. [...] [A]nd I understand that there is a limitation on actually deporting the person. But here I think the one thing you want the person to do is leave. Maybe for a particular event, but maybe he will decide to stay in Greece if once he's there for the—but it seems very odd to say: We are going to show you how much we don't want you here; we are not going to let you leave."