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Immigrant will not face deportation after leaving country

The Supreme Court is expected to have a significant effect on U.S. immigration law when it decides the legality of state-enacted immigration policies. But last month the Court ruled on a less-publicized immigration issue--one that may be of interest to North Carolina residents.

The case involved an immigrant from Greece who was found guilty of forging traveler's checks in 1994. As some immigrants may be aware, the federal government changed immigration law in 1996 to provide that immigrants with green cards could more readily face deportation proceedings if they committed a crime that fell under the umbrella definition of "moral turpitude."

The Greek man's white collar conviction was just such a crime. He went to visit his parents in Greece in 2003, but when he returned to the United States he was detained and faced deportation. The man and his lawyers have been challenging the deportation order since that time, and only now has the Supreme Court provided him some relief.

In a 6-3 decision, the Court ruled that since the immigrant's conviction took place before the law was changed, it should not trigger his deportation or preclude his re-entry into the country if he decides to go abroad. His lawyer compared the Court's legal rationale to that which is often applied in the area of business law: When a new law proscribes certain behavior, corporations are not punished for acts prior to the law's enactment which the law has now made illegal.

Immigrants and green card holders should recognize the narrow rule created by this case, however. It applies only to people with particular factual circumstances. The 1996 law is still valid and in effect, and some immigrants could encounter trouble if they attempt to leave and subsequently return to the United States. It is best to make sure that one will not be affected by the 1996 law before traveling overseas.

Source: New York Daily News, "Supreme Court rules for Queens businessman in immigration case," Erica Pearson, March 29, 2012.

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