The US Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that in cases of statutory rape where sexual intercourse is criminalized based solely on the ages of the participants, the federal definition requires the age of the victim to be less than 16. In Esquivel-Quintana v. Sessions [SCOTUSBlog materials] the court’s definition of what age constitutes “sexual abuse of a minor” was the deciding factor on whether the petitioner, a citizen of Mexico and a permanent resident of the US, would face removal proceedings. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) [materials, text] “makes removable ‘[a]ny alien who is convicted of an aggravated felony, 8 U. S. C. §1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), including ‘sexual abuse of a minor,’ §1101(a)(43)(A)” [text]. The court reasoned that because a different statute, 18 USC §2243 [text], was “amended to protect anyone under age 16 in the same omnibus law that added sexual abuse of a minor to the INA” that Congress intended the age of consent to be 16. Additionally the INS listed sexual abuse of a minor as an “aggravated” felony alongside “murder” and “rape,” suggesting that it “encompasses only especially egregious felonies.”
Juan Esquivel-Quintana came to the US from Mexico with his parents at the age of 12 and became a legal permanent resident. He was convicted in 2009 under California state law, which prohibits sexual relations between an adult “and a minor who is more than three years younger than the perpetrator” or anyone under the age of 18. Esquivel-Quintana was 20 when his girlfriend at the time was 16. The Department of Homeland Security [official website] initiated removal proceedings subsequent to Esquivel-Quintana’s conviction. After an immigration judge concluded that the conviction constituted “sexual abuse of a minor” the Board of Immigration Appeals dismissed his appeal. Esquivel-Quintana is the first Supreme Court case to name Attorney General Jeff Sessions [JURIST op-ed] as a party. The ruling constrains the qualifications necessary for removal of permanent residents for felony convictions.