Supreme Court rules on immigrants unaware they are illegal

California immigrants may not face criminal liability if they are in the country illegally and commit an illegal act but do not realize it based on a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 21, the court ruled in a 7-2 decision that it is necessary for prosecutors to prove that an immigrant is aware that their status or behavior is illegal. Justice Samuel Alito and Justice Clarence Thomas were the dissenting votes.

This case was brought on behalf of a man from the United Arab Emirates who was enrolled at the Florida Institute of Technology. The man’s student visa required full-time enrollment in school. However, he was dismissed from the school twice for failing grades. Alito’s opinion says the man was sent emails warning him that his visa could be terminated if he was not enrolled in classes.

Alito also said that the man checked into a hotel that he paid for with cash for almost two months and regularly went to a firing range. He was taken into custody and convicted of firearm possession, which can lead to deportation. The man was sentenced to 18 months in prison. According to a federal judge, the government did not have an obligation to demonstrate that the man was aware of his illegal status. The Supreme Court disagreed.

People who are facing charges that could result in deportation if there is a conviction may want to contact an attorney about how to proceed. There might be avenues for fighting deportation, and this Supreme Court ruling could be beneficial in some cases. A person may also be concerned about whether a conviction will affect their eligibility for permanent residency. An attorney may be able to help a person understand how immigration law applies in the particular case and work to prevent deportation.