376 U.S. 120 (1964), 83, Costello v. Immigration and Naturalization Service

Docket Nº:No. 83
Citation:376 U.S. 120, 84 S.Ct. 580, 11 L.Ed.2d 559
Party Name:Costello v. Immigration and Naturalization Service
Case Date:February 17, 1964
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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376 U.S. 120 (1964)

84 S.Ct. 580, 11 L.Ed.2d 559

Costello

v.

Immigration and Naturalization Service

No. 83

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 17, 1964

Argued December 12, 1963

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner, while a naturalized citizen, was convicted of two separate offenses involving moral turpitude. Following his subsequent denaturalization on the ground that his citizenship had been acquired by willful misrepresentation, proceedings were brought against him under § 241(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which provides for deportation of an alien who at any time after entry "is convicted" of two crimes involving moral turpitude. He was found deportable, and the Court of Appeals dismissed his petition for review.

Held:

1. The two convictions relied upon to support deportation both occurred at a time when petitioner was a naturalized citizen, and he was therefore not deportable, the statute permitting only deportation of one who was an alien at the time of his convictions. Eichenlaub v. Shaughnessy, 338 U.S. 521, distinguished. Pp. 121-128.

2. The provision in § 340(a) of the Act that a denaturalization order shall be effective as of the original date of naturalization is inapplicable to the general deportation provisions of the Act. Petitioner could not, therefore, under the "relation-back" theory of that provision be deemed to have been an alien at the time of his convictions. Pp. 128-132.

311 F.2d 343, reversed.

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STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

Section 241(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 provides that

Any alien in the United States . . . shall, upon the order of the Attorney General, be deported who . . . at any time after entry is convicted of two crimes involving moral turpitude. . . .1

The single question to be decided in the present case is whether this provision applies to a person who was a naturalized citizen at the time he was convicted of the crimes, but was later denaturalized.

The petitioner, born in Italy in 1891, was brought to the United States when he was four years old, and has lived here ever since. He became a naturalized citizen in 1925. In 1954, he was convicted of two separate offenses of income tax evasion, and the convictions were ultimately affirmed by this Court. Costello v. United States, 350 U.S. 359. In 1959, his citizenship was revoked and his certificate of naturalization canceled on the ground that his citizenship had been acquired by willful misrepresentation. This Court affirmed the judgment of denaturalization. Costello v. United States, 365 U.S. 265.

In 1961, the Immigration and Naturalization Service commenced proceedings to deport the petitioner under § 241(a)(4), and it is those proceedings which have culminated

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in the case now before us. The Special Inquiry Officer found the petitioner deportable; the [84 S.Ct. 582] Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed; and the Court of Appeals dismissed the petition for review, holding that the petitioner was subject to deportation under § 241(a)(4) even though the two convictions relied upon to support deportation both occurred at a time when he was a naturalized citizen. 311 F.2d 343. We granted certiorari to consider an important question of federal law.2 For the reasons which follow, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

At a semantic level, the controversy centers around the use of the present tense "is" in the clause "[[a]ny alien] who at any time after entry is convicted. . . ." The petitioner argues that this language permits deportation only of one who was an alien at the time of his convictions. The Court of Appeals totally rejected such a contention, holding that this statutory language, considered along with the phrase "at any time after entry" and with the broad legislative history, clearly permits deportation of a person now an alien who was convicted of the two crimes in question while he was a naturalized citizen. "There is no ambiguity," the court wrote, and "no room for interpretation or construction." 311 F.2d at 345. The court found additional support for its conclusion in United States ex rel. Eichenlaub v. Shaughnessy, 338 U.S. 521, a case which held that, under a 1920 deportation law, aliens who had been convicted of specified offenses were deportable even though the convictions had occurred at a time when the aliens held certificates of naturalization.

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We take a different view. The statute construed in Eichenlaub differs from § 241(a)(4) in several important respects. The law there involved was the Act of May 10, 1920, which provided that "All aliens who since August 1, 1914, have been or may hereafter be convicted" of violations of the Espionage Act of 1917, as amended, were to be deported, provided the Secretary of Labor, after a hearing, found them to be undesirable residents of the United States.3 The Court read this language as unambiguously authorizing deportation, regardless of the aliens' status at the time they were convicted. It is evident from what was said in the opinion that the Court was aided considerably in its search for the proper construction of the statute by Congress' use of the past tense in the phrase "have been or may hereafter be," and the fact that the only limitation which Congress placed upon the time of conviction was that it be "since August 1, 1914."4 The

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Court also found specific legislative history to support its conclusion. As the Congressional Committee Reports demonstrated, the 1920 law was a special statute dealing with sabotage and espionage, originally enacted in order to deport

some or all of about 500 aliens who were then interned as dangerous enemy aliens and who might be found, after hearings, to be undesirable residents, and also to deport some or all of about 150 other aliens who, during World War I, had been convicted of violations of the Espionage Act or other national security measures, and who might be found, after hearings, to be undesirable residents.

338 U.S. at 532. The Court therefore concluded that Congress, when it enacted the statute, had expressed a clear intent to group together denaturalized citizens along with aliens who had never acquired citizenship and to deport them for specific crimes involving national security occurring after a specific date at the beginning of World War I.

Neither the language nor the history of § 241(a)(4) lends itself so easily to a similar construction. The subsection employs neither a past tense verb nor a single specific time limitation. The petitioner's construction -- that the language permits deportation only of a person who was an alien at the time of his convictions, and the Court of Appeals' construction -- that the language permits deportation of a person now an alien who at any time after entry has been convicted of two crimes, regardless of his status at the time of the convictions -- are both possible readings of the statute, as the respondent has conceded in brief and oral argument.

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We agree with the Court of Appeals that the tense of the verb "be" is not, considered alone, dispositive.5 On the other hand, we disagree with that court's reliance on the phrase "at any time after entry" in § 241(a)(4) to support the conclusion that an alien is deportable for post-entry conduct whether or not he was an alien at the time of conviction. Since § 212(a)(9)6 provides for the exclusion of aliens convicted of crimes of moral turpitude, and any excludable alien who nevertheless enters the country is deportable under § 241(a)(1),7 it seems just as logical to conclude that the purpose of the phrase "at any time after entry" in § 241(a)(4) was simply to make clear that § 241(a)(4) authorizes the deportation of aliens who were not originally excludable, but were convicted after entry.

There is nothing in the legislative history of § 241(a)(4) of so specific a nature as to resolve the ambiguity of the statutory language. The general legislative purpose underlying enactment of § 241(a)(4) was to broaden the provisions governing deportation, "particularly those referring to criminal and subversive aliens."8 But reference

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to such [84 S.Ct. 584] a generalized purpose does little to promote resolution of the specific problem before us, of which there was absolutely no mention in the Committee Reports or other legislative materials concerning § 241(a)(4).9 Although no legislative history illumines our problem, considerable light is forthcoming from another provision of the statute itself. Section 241(b)(2), made specifically applicable to § 241(a)(4), provides that deportation shall not take place

if the court sentencing such alien for such crime shall make at the time of first imposing judgment or passing sentence, or within thirty days thereafter, a recommendation . . . that such alien not be deported.10

As another court has correctly observed,

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It seems plain that the qualifying provisions of subsection (b) are an important part of the legislative scheme expressed in subsection (a)(4). While that section makes a conviction there referred to ground for deportation, it is qualified in an important manner by the provision of subsection (b)(2) that, if the court sentencing the alien makes the recommendation mentioned, then the provisions of subsection (a)(4) do not apply.

Gubbels v. Hoy, 261 F.2d 952, 954.11

Yet, if § 241(a)(4) were construed to apply to those convicted when they were naturalized citizens, the protective provisions of § 241(b)(2) would, as to them, become a dead letter. A naturalized citizen would not "at the time of first...

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