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SOCTUS decision enhances due process rights of immigrants

Anyone who has had to navigate the court system here in the U.S., whether for a civil or criminal matter at the state or federal level, knows firsthand just how mystifying the experience can prove to be.

As bewildering as this experience can prove to be for everyday citizens, imagine how much more so it can be for immigrants who must place their complete trust in their attorney to guide them through the process effectively and efficiently.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that sometimes the attorneys in whom immigrants place their trust can fail to fulfill this duty, effectively leaving them with little recourse and hopelessly adrift in an unfamiliar system.

Fortunately, a recent decision by the Supreme Court of the United States should help rectify this situation by strengthening the due process rights of otherwise vulnerable immigrants.

In Reyes Mata v. Lynch, a Mexican man who had lived in the U.S. for 15 years as an undocumented immigrant pleaded guilty to domestic assault charges back in 2010. Shortly thereafter, deportation proceedings were initiated and the presiding judge ordered him removed from the U.S.

Mata sought to challenge the deportation decision via the Board of Immigration Appeals, but his then-attorney failed to file the necessary paperwork within the applicable 90-day timeframe.

Mata then hired a new attorney and asked the BIA to reopen his case on the grounds that he wasn't made aware of his prior attorney's malpractice until it was too late. The BIA, however, dismissed the appeal.

An appeal was then filed with the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals arguing that Mata's due process rights had been denied and requesting that the deadline for filing an appeal be extended. The 5th Circuit, however, declined to do so, claiming it lacked jurisdiction over the matter.

Mata appealed to SCOTUS, which in an 8-1 decision issued earlier this week, held that the federal appellate courts do indeed have the necessary jurisdiction and therefore can extend deadlines in deportation cases predicated upon ineffective assistance of counsel.

This is truly a groundbreaking and highly encouraging decision for immigrants, who no longer have to worry quite as much about their case being effectively closed due to their attorney's negligence.

Stay tuned for updates ...

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