The decision to enter the United States as a legal permanent resident is an easy one for those who have waited years to be granted a visa. For some, though, the decision can mean leaving their children behind. That was the case for Norma Uly, who, in 1981, applied for a visa along with her young daughter. After 21 years, Uly’s name made it to the top of the waiting list. But by that point, Uly’s daughter was 23 years old and U.S. authorities said the daughter had to go to the back of the line and wait for her own visa. The reason, according to the Think Progress, was an interpretation of federal law that said the daughter was no longer a “child” and could not immigrate with her mother.
In response to her dilemma, Uly joined a group of parents who challenged the policy in court.
The Supreme Court ruled on the case Monday. In a 5-4 decision the court upheld the Obama administration’s contention that immigrant children who become adults as their parents wait to become permanent legal residents of the United States should go to the back of the line to wait for their own visas.
At the heart of the case is a piece of legislation, passed by Congress in 2002, called the Child Status Protection Act. President George W. Bush signed the bill into law. It was intended to allow children who “age out” to keep their place in line, according to The Associated Press.
Justice Elena Kagan wrote the opinion for the plurality that said the law preserves the place in line only for a narrowly-defined category of children whose petition was filed directly by a parent who is a green card holder. The law does not apply to children in other categories, Kagan wrote. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia agreed with the outcome but not Kagan’s reasoning. They wrote separate opinions.
The Obama administration filed an appeal with the Supreme Court after a 2008 court ruling that would have allowed for broad application of the law and extended the right to reserve spots in line to thousands of children. Monday’s decision from Kagan, and others, overturned the lower court’s broad interpretation of the law.
That is bad news for Uly and Rosalina Cuellar de Osorio, who was named in the case. Osorio is a Salvadoran immigrant whose son also aged out while his mother awaited her visa.
The court’s decision places the responsibility to clarify the law in the hands of Congress.
A comprehensive immigration reform bill passed the Senate last year. That bill stalled in the House of Representatives where Republican lawmakers said they preferred to fix immigration policies on a case-by-case basis rather than with a sweeping reform bill.