Supreme Court Decision on “Aged-Out” Immigrants Disrupts Normal Ideological Blocs

Wednesday, June 11, 2014
(AP Photo)

It is not often with the current U.S. Supreme Court that rulings create strange bedfellows between the liberal and conservative blocs of justices. But a recent ruling in an immigrants’ rights case did just that.


In Scialabba v. Cuellar de Osorio (pdf), a split court ruled 5-4 that children of immigrants cannot be given special priority by the immigration system just because they “age out” (meaning they turn 21 by the time bureaucrats get around to processing their parents’ visa application).


The case addressed a 2002 law adopted by Congress allowing aged-out children to hold on to their child status after turning 21.


Justice Elena Kagan, appointed by President Barack Obama, led the majority in deciding the law was ambiguous. “Whatever Congress might have meant,” Kagan wrote, “[the law] failed to speak clearly.”


One of the most surprising aspects of the ruling was who sided with Kagan, and who dissented. She was joined by three members of the court’s right wing (Justices Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia, and Chief Justice John Roberts Jr.), along with liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg.


The minority also featured an unusual mix of justices: Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Obama’s other appointee to the court, as well as conservatives Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito Jr. Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer also sided with them. 


Some lawmakers and immigration groups criticized the court ruling, saying that in spite of the law’s seemingly vague or ambiguous language, the intent of Congress was clear.


The ruling has left aged-out children of immigrants “in limbo,” said Immigrant Rights Clinic co-director Alina Das, according to The New York Times, “waiting for leadership from the administration and Congress to make sure that they’re back on a path to citizenship.”


The decision is expected to affect thousands of aged-out individuals per year.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Children ‘Aged Out’ of Immigration System Won’t Get Special Priority, Justices Rule (by James Barron, New York Times)

Woman Waits In Line For 21 Years To Immigrate Into US, Then Gets Turned Away For Being Too Old (by Nicole Flatow, ThinkProgress)

Scialabba v. Cuellar De Osorio (U.S. Supreme Court) (pdf)


soniya 2 years ago
This is regarding the recent decision of Supreme Court regarding Aged out kids who no longer can be with their parents. They have to suffer another 10 years or more to join their family. For parents who migrate here without their big kid is almost impossible to survive. And anyway big kid or small, for parents they are just kids. If they pass the age of 21, it's better for their parents that these kids are ready to support them financially, physically and mentally that they are not alone here. As when the parents arrive here first their English language is not build to communicate in hospitals or to get them a job. They need somebody young who can communicate for them in a more mature way. For the immigrants is already hard to survive here in this economy and leaving somebody back home who is just Ready to take care of them makes almost impossible to stay here. Please think about this. I am the only child and i am the only hope for my parents. If I am not able to join them quickly than they might not survive at all. My mother is a heart patient having pace maker and my dad is diabetic. They both need me in every little thing to survive in their life. I already waited with my parents, please don't make me wait even more. They are alone here. And they need me.

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