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Supreme Court allows deportation for certain tax crimes

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Lawful residents of Maryland and every state can be deported for committing what are called "aggravated felonies." That term sounds serious because at one time it applied to a select few high-profile charges, such as drug crimes and murder. Its reach has gradually grown to encompass other crimes, and last month the Supreme Court added another: tax fraud.

The Court reached that result in the case of a married couple who came to the United States from Japan in 1984. They entered the country legally and achieved permanent residency. They became fast entrepreneurs, opening and operating successful restaurants. Unfortunately, a few years later they filed an inaccurate tax return which did not report their complete earnings. Government prosecutors charged the couple with filing a false corporate return. They pleaded guilty to the charge and paid in full the $245,000 that they owed to the IRS.

Yet Immigration and Customs Enforcement initiated deportation proceedings against them because their crime fit the definition of aggravated felony. Immigration law was changed in 1994 such that a criminal offense of "fraud or deceit" where the loss incurred exceeded $200,000 could be considered an aggravated felony, triggering deportation.

The Supreme Court agreed with ICE's interpretation of the law. In its opinion, the Court noted that the couple filed their tax return knowing that it was inaccurate. Therefore, the Court reasoned, they had engaged in a crime of deceit, and their behavior met the definition of aggravated felony under the law.

The Court's ruling was not unanimous. Three dissenting Justices expressed incredulity that Congress could have intended the law to result in deportation for a tax offense. The majority's decision could have broad and far-reaching implications for immigrants who are charged with criminal tax offenses.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Legal immigrants face deportation for filing false tax return," David Savage and Catherine Saillant, Feb. 26, 2012.

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