A sharply divided Supreme Court on Monday ruled that federal courts are powerless to review immigration officials’ decisions in some deportation cases, even when they have made what a dissenting justice called “egregious factual mistakes.”
The court ruled 5-4 against Georgia resident Pankajkumar Patel, who checked a box indicating he was a U.S. citizen when renewing his Georgia driver’s license in 2008.
An immigration judge, who is a Justice Department employee, concluded Patel intended to misrepresent his status for the purpose of getting his license, even though Georgia law entitled a noncitizen in Patel’s situation to a license to drive.
Patel and his wife, Jyotsnaben, concede they entered the U.S. illegally roughly 30 years ago since leaving their native India. In 2007, Patel applied for a “green card,” legal permanent residency status, with the support of his employer. The Patels have three children. One is a U.S. citizen and the other two are green-card holders who are 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 Patel and his wife deported.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote for five conservative justices that federal courts can’t review such decisions under immigration law. The U.S. attorney general can grant protection from deportation, but people must first be eligible and the result of the immigration judge’s decision was that Patel was ineligible.
“Federal courts have a very limited role to play in this process,” Barrett wrote concluding that immigration law “precludes judicial review of factual findings that underlie a denial of relief.”
Justice Neil Gorsuch joined with the court’s three liberal justices in dissent. “As a result, no court may correct even the agency’s most egregious factual mistakes about an individual’s statutory eligibility for relief,” Gorsuch wrote, noting the agency itself sided with Patel at the Supreme Court.
While the high-court case dealt with deportation, Gorsuch wrote that the decision could foreclose court review when immigration officials make errors of fact in other contexts, “the student hoping to remain in the country, the foreigner who marries a U. S. citizen, the skilled worker sponsored by her employer.”
Pointing to government statistics, Gorsuch wrote that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services rejected 13,000 green-card applications in the last three months of 2021 and has a backlog of nearly 790,000 pending cases.