The US Supreme Court tightened notice requirements under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) on Thursday, finding in favor of an undocumented immigrant who argued a procedural defect in the government’s case.
Under the IIRIRA, the government must serve “a notice to appear” on persons it is seeking to remove from the US. Petitioner Agusto Niz-Chavez received a written notice stating the charges against him. Eight months later, he received a second notice providing the time and place of his hearing.
In a thorough textual analysis, Justice Neil Gorsuch concluded that the notice requirement in IIRIRA mandates such information must be given in a single document. The prefatory “a” before “notice to appear” necessitates one notice, not several with multiple pieces of information. Citing customary usage, he reasoned that “[n]ormally, indefinite articles (like ‘a’ or ‘an’) precede countable nouns. The examples above illustrate the point: While you might say ‘she wrote a manuscript’ or ‘he sent three job applications,’ no one would say ‘she wrote manuscript’ or ‘he sent job application.'”
The decision delivers significant implications in the deportation process. At some hearings, undocumented immigrants may be able to argue against deportation if they can show a continuous presence in the US for a specified period of time. Courts have held that this continuous presence stops tolling upon receiving a notice to appear (which has been called the “stop-time” rule). But now since the government is required to provide all relevant notice information in a single document—thereby delaying the issuance of the notice until all relevant information is obtained—undocumented immigrants have a greater window to have a continuous presence.
The American Immigration Council, speaking to the practical nature of the procedure and applauding the decision, said the ruling “confirms that the practice of sending this information in two or more notices was deeply flawed” and created “confusion, chaos, and unfairness.”