US Supreme Court eases visa rules

June 17th, 2008 - 8:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, June 17 (IANS) In a development that could help green card seekers, the US Supreme Court has made it easier for some foreigners who overstay their visas to seek to remain in the country to seek legal status. The top court ruled 5-4 Monday that someone who is in the US illegally may under “some circumstances” withdraw his voluntarily agreement to depart and continue to try to get approval to remain in the US.

The decision essentially embraced a proposed Justice Department regulation governing the treatment of similar cases in the future. The ruling, jurists said, would particularly benefit those married to American citizens

The decision came in the case of Samson Dada, a Nigerian citizen, who stayed beyond the expiration of his tourist visa in 1998. He married an American the following year and soon began trying to obtain a visa as an immediate relative of a citizen.

But Dada and his wife apparently failed to submit some documents, causing immigration officials to deny the visa. He then agreed to leave voluntarily, which would allow him to try sooner to re-enter the country legally than if he had been deported.

The court’s task was to decide whether he could withdraw his voluntary agreement to leave the country and continue to try to adjust his status while in the US.

Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, joined by his four liberal colleagues. The four conservative justice dissented.

Justice Antonin Scalia said, “The court lacks the authority to impose its chosen remedy.”

The federal government had earlier taken a position that intending immigrants who left the US would no longer be eligible for a “green card” and if they stayed in the US longer than authorised, they would be disqualified”.

“The Supreme Court rejected the government’s hard-line approach to immigrants and to lawful immigration options,” said Nadine Wettstein, legal director of the American Immigration Law Foundation (AILF), which filed a “Friend of the Court” brief in the case.

“The court correctly held that immigrants’ rights under the law must be respected,” Wettstein added.

“This decision should send a message to the government,” added Beth Werlin, AILF’s litigation clearing house attorney and co-author of AILF’s Amicus Curiae brief.

“The government should have reached this conclusion on its own years ago, rather than fighting through the courts.”

The decision resolved majority of visa-related conflicts in the lower courts and involved two parts of the immigration law. One allows people to avoid being deported by agreeing to leave the country voluntarily and the other allows immigrants, who overstay their visas, make their case to immigration officials.

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