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Supreme Court clarifies 'aggravated felony' for immigrant removal purposes

The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled 6-3 [opinion, PDF] on Tuesday in Kawashima v. Holder [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] that, under the Immigration and Nationality Act [8 USC § 1101 et seq.], the making of false tax returns is a crime involving fraud or deceit, which can result in deportation, when the government suffers a loss of more than $10,000. Petitioners Akio and Fusako Kawashima are natives and citizens of Japan who were living in California as lawful permanent residents. Petitioners were charged with, and pleaded guilty to, filing, and aiding and abetting in filing, a false statement on a corporate tax return. An immigration judge ordered the deportation of the petitioners, after determining the convictions were "aggravated felonies" within the meaning of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed the decision, which was ultimately upheld [opinion] US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In an opinion authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court affirmed:

The language of [the statute] is clear. Anyone who is convicted of an offense that "involves fraud or deceit in which the loss to the victim or victims exceeds $10,000" has committed an aggravated felony and is subject to deportation pursuant to 8 USC § 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii). The elements of willfully making and subscribing a false corporate tax return, in violation of 26 USC § 7206(1), and of aiding and assisting in the preparation of a false tax return, in violation of 26 USC § 7206(2), establish that those crimes are deportable offenses because they necessarily entail deceit.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg authored a dissenting opinion, in which she was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. The court's ruling resolved a split among the circuits regarding whether filing a false tax return was an aggravated felony under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

During oral arguments [JURIST report], lawyers for the petitioners argued that filing a false tax return does meet the definition of "fraud or deceit" because the US government does not have to prove any intent to deceive in order to establish that a false tax return has been filed. Several justices were skeptical of petitioners' position that an intentional lie does not necessarily mean an intent to deceive.

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