The Supreme Court made it easier for the government to deport non-U.S. citizens if they are convicted of state crimes.
The justices ruled 5-3 Thursday that a man who spent 23 years living in New York as a lawful permanent resident can be barred from re-entering the country because of a 1999 conviction for attempted arson.
George Luna Torres had served one day in prison and five years of probation after pleading guilty in state court, but otherwise had a clean record since his parents brought him from the Dominican Republic in 1983.
Under immigration law, a lawful permanent resident can be deported or denied re-entry to the United States after being convicted of an aggravated felony. Those offenses include certain federal crimes as well as state offenses that share the same elements.
Luna argued that the federal crime of arson is different from the state version because it must involve interstate commerce.
Writing for the court, Justice Elena Kagan said that is simply a technical difference needed to give Congress authority over arson and not a meaningful distinction. She said Luna’s argument would also exclude more serious state crimes, such as kidnapping, from affecting immigration status simply because a kidnapper failed to cross state lines.