Supreme Court Rules Against Migrants in Dispute Over Deportation Hearing Notices


The Supreme Court sided with the federal government on Friday in a dispute over what information immigration officials must provide migrants about their deportation hearings.

In a 5-to-4 decision, the majority upheld the current requirements, which can mean that basic information about a deportation hearing is missing.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote the majority opinion, joined by four of the court’s other conservatives.

He cautioned that the decision “does not mean that the government is free of its obligation” to provide immigrants with notice of deportation hearings. Rather, he wrote, it blocked immigrants from seeking to challenge removal orders “in perpetuity based on arguments they could have raised in a hearing that they chose to skip.”

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, in a dissent, wrote that the majority had formally approved the government’s “abject noncompliance” with its duty to give migrants proper notice about deportation proceedings.

Notice of such hearings “has been a crucial aspect of federal immigration policy since at least the early 1950s,” added Justice Jackson, who was joined by the court’s other two liberal justices and Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.

The issue before the court was narrow and technical — how to interpret the country’s notoriously dense and tangled immigration laws — but the legal dispute took place as a migration crisis has made immigration a top political priority in the thick of a presidential campaign.

Record numbers of migrants have been apprehended at the country’s southern border for the last three years. In the fiscal year that ended in September, 2.4 million were caught.

Although the numbers have dropped in recent months, the issue has become a growing political liability for President Biden. This month, he issued an executive order to essentially block asylum at the southern border, a major shift in how the country has handled requests by people seeking protection in the United States.

The dispute before the court stemmed from a group of cases brought by immigrants who challenged their deportations, claiming they never received proper notice of their court hearings. Although the circumstances of each case varied, in each instance the government failed to provide a single notice to appear with information about the time and place of the deportation hearing.

In each case, the migrant failed to show up for the hearing and was ordered deported. Each person challenged the deportation.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, one of the country’s most conservative appeals courts, heard one of the cases and sided with the government. Judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which has typically been one of the most liberal appeals courts, sided with the immigrants in the other two cases.

Such a split among appeals courts is often a reason for Supreme Court review.

The petitioners who challenged their deportation orders argue that for years, the Department of Homeland Security has used a flawed process to alert people to their hearings.

One of the petitioners, Moris Esmelis Campos-Chaves, had fled to the United States from El Salvador. Mr. Campos-Chaves waded across the Rio Grande in January 2005 near Laredo, Texas.

He said that he received an initial notice for a deportation hearing, but that it did not include a date and time. Later that year, the immigration court mailed a notice with the details of his hearing to a Texas address that he had given to immigration officials. When he failed to show up at the hearing, an immigration judge ordered him deported.

In September 2018, he asked to reopen his case, arguing that he had never received the details of his hearing and that his children would face exceptional hardship if he were deported.

Mr. Campos-Chaves, who works as a landscaper, and his wife have two children, both born in the United States.

After the judge denied his request, he appealed. The Fifth Circuit agreed with the lower court.

Mr. Campos-Chaves then asked the Supreme Court to weigh in. His case is joined with those of Varinder Singh, an Indian citizen who had crossed into the United States by climbing a fence at the Mexican border, and Raul Daniel Mendez-Colín, a citizen of Mexico who crossed the Arizona border by car.

At oral argument in January, the lawyer representing the immigrants, Easha Anand, had argued that the government was “flouting the plain text” of federal immigration law by failing to give people notice of their court dates.

The lawyer for the government, Charles L. McCloud, argued that a decision in favor of the migrants would mean that “an avalanche” of cases could be tossed back into the immigration system and that such a ruling “threatens to unsettle hundreds of thousands” of deportation orders the courts have issued for decades.

Justice Gorsuch had appeared skeptical of this view. He said the government regulations in place “suggest that a lot of things are required in a notice to appear, except stuff that the government finds inconvenient, like the hearing date.” The government’s argument, he added, appeared to be premised on “trust us.”

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