Updated 11:40 am
The U.S. Supreme Court made a decision today that has implications for a Martha’s Vineyard man and beyond.
In an 8-1 result, the nation’s highest court ruled that the First Circuit Court of Appeals was incorrect when it upheld the deportation of Wescley Pereira, a husband and father of two who has been on the Island since 2000, when he was 19. He works as a handyman.
“We’re excited and happy for Mr. Pereira,” David Zimmer, the Goodwin Procter attorney who argued the case, said. “This was my first [Supreme Court] case arguing, yes. It’s been an amazing and stressful couple of months. It was a lot of fun. I appreciate the firm letting me do this, and Mr. Pereira for having the confidence in me to present his case.”
Pereira declined a request to be interviewed through his attorney. “But he said to tell you that he is extremely happy with the Supreme Court’s decision,” Zimmer wrote in a follow-up email.
At issue in the case was the so-called “stop-time” in immigration cases. Pereira’s attorney argued he had been in the country beyond the 10-year limit, while the government’s case hinged on a 2006 arrest of Pereira for operating under the influence. He was ordered to attend a deportation hearing, but never received the notice because it was mailed to a home address. Pereira, like many on Martha’s Vineyard, gets his mail at a Post Office box.
Under federal immigration law, an undocumented immigrant present in the United States for 10 years can attempt to remain in the U.S. by appealing to the U.S. Attorney General, who has the final say. During those 10 years, the person must show that he is a person of good moral character, and not be convicted of a crime of moral turpitude, or other crimes, including terrorism. He must also demonstrate that being deported would “result in exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to his spouse or child.”
The Department of Homeland Security’s official order of deportation came 13 years after Pereira arrived in the country.
The court ruled that a notice to appear without a date and time is not a notice to appear for the court. The decision was written by Sonia Sotomayor, and the dissent was written by Samuel Alito, who referenced the Chevron decision — a decision that ruled the court should give deference to an administrative agency’s interpretation of the law.
“If the government serves a noncitizen with a document that is labeled ‘notice to appear,’ but the document fails to specify either the time or place of the removal proceedings, does it trigger the stop-time rule?” Sotomayor wrote. “The answer is as obvious as it seems: No.”
In his dissent, Alito noted that the “common sense” argument put forward by the majority of the court “somehow managed to elude every court of appeals to consider the question save one.” He also noted the implications going forward.
“Today’s decision appears even less commonsensical once its likely consequences are taken into account,” Alito wrote. “As already noted, going forward the government will be forced to include an arbitrary date and time on every notice to appear that it issues.”
Pereira’s road to this point started as a 19-year-old coming to the Island on a work visa. He married and has two children, and has established roots on the Island.
“I know that he’s received a lot of support,” Zimmer told The Times. “He’s a big fan of the Vineyard.”
What he’s not such a big fan of is the spotlight that the case has shone on him and his family. “He’s a private guy,” Zimmer said. “He hasn’t enjoyed the publicity surrounding this case.”
The opinion from the nation’s highest court remands the case to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. That court is likely to pass it back to immigration court, Zimmer said, where Pereira will have his opportunity to argue for cancellation of his removal so that he can remain in the U.S.
“He’s got a lot to say,” Zimmer said. The immigration court has discretion over whether to provide relief, and it will come down to that discretionary authority, he said. “He’s got a strong case, and we’re hopeful he’ll get it,” Zimmer said.
Updated to include comments from Pereira’s attorney. -Ed.