One of the frequent complaints among those opposed to granting legal status to those 11 million unauthorized immigrants currently living in the U.S. is that it is unfair for those who have patiently waited in line to become eligible for entry visas. But one group of applicants who have waited in line patiently–some for a couple of decades–got dealt a bad blow this week when the Supreme Court issued its ruling in a case involving a child applicant who “aged out” by turning 21 before her mother’s application for residency on her behalf was acted on. A 5-4 majority sided with the Obama administration that children who turned 21 before their application received approval would lose their place in line and must go to the back of the line to essentially start all over again. When applicants from countries in Latin America and Asia are involved, that can add decades of additional waiting. A child who began the process at age 2, might end up being 40 before his or her application was approved, with 20 years on the waiting list under the parent’s application and another when the applicant was forced to the back of the line upon turning 21.
What was most interesting from a political perspective in the Supreme Court’s ruling was how it broke down among the justices on the liberal/conservative spectrum. Chief Justice John Roberts, and generally swing-voter Justice Anthony Kennedy voted with liberal Justices Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Bryer in forcing applicants who aged-out to the back of the line, while conservative Justice Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas joined Justice Sonya Sotomayor in interpreting Congress’ intention as allowing applicants who reached 21 to maintain their original place in line.
While it’s not possible to read too much into the ideological divide on this issue, it is worth noting that when it comes to the issue of immigration, traditional left/right splits don’t always hold up.