A sharply divided Supreme Court ruled Monday that federal courts are powerless to review immigration officials’ decisions in some deportation cases, even if they have made what a dissenting judiciary calls “egregious errors of fact.”
The court ruled 5-4 against Georgia resident Pankajkumar Patel, who checked a box indicating he was a US citizen when renewing his Georgia driver’s license in 2008.
An immigration judge, who is a Justice Department staffer, concluded that Patel intended to misrepresent his status in order to obtain his driver’s license, even though Georgian law granted a driver’s license to a non-citizen in Patel’s situation.
Patel and his wife Jyotsnaben admit they entered the US illegally about 30 years ago, since leaving their native India. In 2007, with the support of his employer, Patel applied for a “green card,” legal permanent residency status. The Patels have three children. One is a US citizen and the other two are green card holders married to Americans.
But Patel’s quest for legal status foundered on the license application and the immigration judge’s decision that Patel had intentionally misrepresented his citizenship status. The judge ordered the deportation of Patel and his wife.
Judge Amy Coney Barrett wrote for five conservative justices that federal courts cannot review such decisions under immigration law. The US Attorney General can grant protection from deportation, but people must first be eligible, and the outcome of the immigration judge’s decision was that Patel was not eligible.
“Federal courts have a very limited role to play in this process,” Barrett wrote, concluding that the immigration statute “precludes judicial review of findings of fact underlying a denial of exoneration.”
Judge Neil Gorsuch joined the court’s three liberal judges. “Consequently, no court may correct even the most egregious errors of fact by the agency regarding a person’s statutory eligibility for relief,” Gorsuch wrote, noting that the agency itself sided with Patel before the Supreme Court.
As the Supreme Court case dealt with the deportation, Gorsuch wrote that the decision could bar judicial review if immigration officials make errors of fact in other contexts, “the student hoping to stay in the country, the foreigner, the one US citizen marries the professional worker sponsored by her employer.”
Citing government statistics, Gorsuch wrote that U.S. citizenship and immigration services rejected 13,000 green card applications in the last three months of 2021 and have a backlog of nearly 790,000 pending cases.