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U.S. Supreme Court Protects Rights of Lawful Permanent Residents to Travel without Risking Denial of Re-Admission

On March 28, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an important decision protecting the rights of immigrants with long ago criminal convictions to travel abroad without risking detention and removal upon their return.

In Vartelas v. Holder, No 10-1211, the Supreme Court struck down the government’s retroactive application of a 1996 immigration law amendment that the government said allowed denial of re-admission and removal of lawful permanent residents who take short trips abroad even if their old convictions preceded the new law.  Such retroactive application of the 1996 amendment subjected immigrants with relatively minor offenses—many of whom were not deportable while inside the U.S.—to detention and removal simply because they needed to travel to attend a funeral, visit a sick family member, or otherwise attend to family or other emergent business abroad.  The Court’s ruling in this case may also favorably affect the ability of immigrants to challenge retroactive application of other harsh immigration law amendments.

Mr. Vartelas was represented pro bono by the University of Pennsylvania Law School Supreme Court Clinic (Stephanos Bibas, Counsel of Record).  IDP provided immigration law support and coordinated amicus briefing submitted by national criminal justice and criminal-immigration law expert organizations in support of Mr. Vartelas’ position and prepared pro bono by the law firm of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher (David Debold, Counsel of Record). For a practice advisory on how immigrants may benefit from this decision, click here.

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