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Immigrant Can't Be Deported for Sex With Teen Girlfriend Under Federal Law

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

A 20-year-old immigrant who pleaded guilty to statutory rape of his 16-year-old girlfriend cannot be deported under federal law for sexual abuse of a minor, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled.

In a unanimous ruling in Esquivel-Quintana v. Sessions, the High Court said that the age of consent for statutory rape is younger than 16 under federal law. The defendant was convicted under California law, which criminalizes consensual sex between an adult and anyone who is under 18.

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the court, said that difference doesn't work for deportation under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Sexual Abuse of a Minor

"Absent some special relationship of trust, consensual sexual conduct involving a younger partner who is at least 16 years of age does not qualify as sexual abuse of a minor under the INA, regardless of the age differential between the two participants," the court said in reversing the deportation order.

Juan Esquivel-Quintana came to the United States with his parents on an immigrant visa when he was 12. He later became a lawful permanent resident.

In 2009, he pleaded no contest to statutory rape in California for having consensual sex with his girlfriend. He was 20; she was almost 17.

The Department of Homeland Security then initiated deportation proceedings against him. The Board of Immigration Appeals and U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the government.

Not an Aggravated Felony

On petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices side with the petitioner. They cited the definitions of statutory rape under California Penal Code Section §261.5(c) and aggravated felony under the Immigration and Nationality Act, Section §1101(a)(43)(A)

"We agree with petitioner that, in the context of statutory rape offenses that criminalize sexual intercourse based solely on the age of the participants, the generic federal definition of sexual abuse of a minor requires that the victim be younger than 16," the court said. "Because the California statute at issue in this case does not categorically fall within that definition, a conviction pursuant to it is not an aggravated felony under §1101(a)(43)(A)."

Hans von Spakovsky, of the Heritage Foundation, said the decision will not change much in immigration law because the court focused on the difference between California's age for a minor, which is under 18, and the federal age for a minor, which is under 16.

"It's not significant because the number of individuals this will apply to is so tiny you can probably count them on one hand," he told the Washington Times.

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