Supreme Court Preview: Immigrants' Rights And Notice To Appear
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The Supreme Court hears arguments today in a case that could decide whether thousands of immigrants are deported. Shannon Dooling from member station WBUR reports.
SHANNON DOOLING, BYLINE: It's a 45-minute ferry ride to get to Martha's Vineyard, the vacation mecca that sits about seven miles off the coast of Cape Cod. The population explodes in the busy summer months. But this time of year, the island is buzzing with a different energy - the year-rounder's tackling home improvement projects.
GALE MEISTER: See all this? That goes down 12 inches even more - 18.
WESCLEY PEREIRA: That's why I got L-shape, one-foot down and one horizontal.
DOOLING: Wescley Pereira and Gale Meister have been neighbors for more than a decade. On this cool, spring day, they're checking out the new skunk-proof fencing Pereira installed around the foundation of Meister's cottage. Pereira came to the U.S. from Brazil on a tourist visa when he was 19 years old and never left. After living in Boston for a few years, he ventured out to the vineyard where there are plenty of jobs, he says, for people willing to work hard. And it's been home ever since.
PEREIRA: And I say I'm New England (laughter) New Englander now (laughter) so clam chowder (laughter) Patriot (laughter) - even my dog's a Boston terrier (laughter).
DOOLING: Now 37 and married, he works as a painter, landscaper and handyman. Both of his U.S. citizen daughters were born on the island, and he says the quality of life for his children is a big reason to stay on the vineyard. But as much as Pereira and his family enjoy island living, there is an uncertainty that weighs heavily upon all of them.
PEREIRA: I'm in an odd stage now. What could happen? That's the problem. What could happen? We don't know.
DOOLING: It all started in 2006 when federal immigration officials sent Pereira what's called a notice to appear, charging him with overstaying his visa. By statute, this notice should have given him the date and time of the hearing, but it didn't, and that forms the basis of the Supreme Court case and may very well determine Pereira's future. Here's why - imagine a clock. If you're an immigrant living in the U.S. without authorization, a clock starts ticking the moment you enter the country. If your clock, your time in the country, hits 10 years, under some circumstances, you could be eligible to stay in the U.S. The government says, though, once a notice to appear is issued, it stops the clock; in Pereira's case, well short of 10 years. David Zimmer, one of Pereira's attorneys, says this is the crux of the argument before the Supreme Court.
DAVID ZIMMER: The issue in this case is what happens if the government serves something that it calls a notice to appear but that says that the time and place the proceedings will be held is yet to be determined?
DOOLING: Zimmer argues the government isn't living up to its statutory obligations when it issues incomplete notices like the one Pereira received. More than a year passed before Pereira was actually assigned a court date. It was a year lost from his clock.
ZIMMER: There are a lot of people who are in this situation where they have this time in between the two notices, and they need to know whether or not it counts. And if it does count, then that could determine whether they're eligible for cancellation of removal.
JESSICA VAUGHAN: The government is initiating deportation proceedings with a notice to appear. It shouldn't matter exactly when and where and at what hour those proceedings are going to take place.
DOOLING: Jessica Vaughan is director of Policy Studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors stricter immigration enforcement. She says the government's obligation is fulfilled the moment a notice to appear is issued. Appellate courts across the country have disagreed on this very question of what information needs to be included in a notice to appear in order for the government to stop an immigrant's so-called clock. For Pereira, the high court's ruling could mean the difference between staying on the island he loves and returning to his native Brazil.
PEREIRA: I tried not think much because don't help. So I tried focus on other things because don't going to help at all. Just wait. That's my thing now.
DOOLING: Until then, Pereira's clock stands still while his life goes on. For NPR News, I'm Shannon Dooling in Boston.
(SOUNDBITE OF GHOSTTOWN'S "HOTSAUCE HEAVEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.