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Vartelas v. Holder

Supreme Court of the United States

January 18, 2012, Argued; March 28, 2012, Decided

No. 10-1211


 [*260]  Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court.

Panagis Vartelas, a native of Greece, became a lawful permanent resident of the United States in 1989. He pleaded guilty to a felony (conspiring to make a counterfeit security) in 1994, and served a prison sentence of four months for  [****8] that offense. Vartelas traveled to Greece in 2003 to visit his parents. On his return to the United States a week later, he was treated as an inadmissible alien and placed in removal proceedings. Under the law governing at the time of Vartelas' plea, an alien in his situation could travel abroad for brief periods without jeopardizing his resident alien status. See 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(13) (1988 ed.), as construed in Rosenberg v. Fleuti, 374 U.S. 449, 83 S. Ct. 1804, 10 L. Ed. 2d 1000 (1963).

In 1996, Congress enacted the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), 110 Stat. 3009-546. That Act effectively precluded foreign travel by lawful permanent residents who had a conviction like Vartelas'. Under IIRIRA, such aliens, on return from a sojourn abroad, however brief, may be permanently removed from the United States. See 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(13)(C)(v); § 1182(a)(2).

 [*261]  This case presents a question of retroactivity not addressed by Congress: As to a lawful permanent resident convicted of a crime before the effective date of IIRIRA, which regime governs, the one in force at the time of the conviction, or IIRIRA? If the former, Vartelas' brief trip abroad would not disturb his lawful permanent resident  [****9] status. If the latter, he may be denied reentry. We conclude that the relevant provision of IIRIRA,  [**1484]  § 1101(a)(13)(C)(v), attached a new disability (denial of reentry) in respect to past events (Vartelas' pre-IIRIRA offense, plea, and conviction). Guided by the deeply rooted presumption against retroactive legislation, we hold that § 1101(a)(13)(C)(v) does not apply to Vartelas' conviction. The impact of Vartelas' brief travel abroad on his permanent resident status is  [***482]  therefore determined not by IIRIRA, but by the legal regime in force at the time of his conviction.

Before IIRIRA's passage, United States immigration law established "two types of proceedings in which aliens can be denied the hospitality of the United States: deportation hearings and exclusion hearings." Landon v. Plasencia, 459 U.S. 21, 25, 103 S. Ct. 321, 74 L. Ed. 2d 21 (1982) . Exclusion hearings were held for certain aliens seeking entry to the United States, and deportation hearings were held for certain aliens who had already entered this country. See ibid.

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566 U.S. 257 *; 132 S. Ct. 1479 **; 182 L. Ed. 2d 473 ***; 2012 U.S. LEXIS 2540 ****; 80 U.S.L.W. 4281; 23 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 237; 2012 WL 1019971



Vartelas v. Holder, 620 F.3d 108, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 18834 (2d Cir., 2010)

Disposition: 620 F. 3d 108, reversed and remanded.


alien, retroactivity, permanent resident, travel, immigration, abroad, disability, deportation, convicted, reentry, trip, moral turpitude, effective date, removal, retroactive effect, guilty plea, preenactment, resident, discretionary, pre-IIRIRA, border, courts, cases, past events, postenactment, counterfeit, eligibility, quotation, hearings, sentence

Immigration Law, Grounds for Deportation & Removal, Criminal Activity, General Overview, Governments, Legislation, Effect & Operation, Retrospective Operation, Inadmissibility at Entry, Deportation & Removal, Administrative Proceedings, Hearing Procedures, Admission of Immigrants & Nonimmigrants, Inadmissibility, Grounds for Inadmissibility, Criminal Activity, Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude, Constitutional Law, Bills of Attainder & Ex Post Facto Clause, Ex Post Facto Clause, Congressional Duties & Powers, Contracts Clause, Fundamental Rights, Procedural Due Process, Scope of Protection, Improper Entry, Prospective Operation