William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice
Family in the Balance: Barton v. Barr and the Systematic Violation of the Right to Family Life in U.S. Immigration Enforcement
The United States systematically violates the international human right to family life in its system of removal of noncitizens. Cancellation of removal provides a means for noncitizens to challenge their removal based on family ties in the United States, but Congress has placed draconian limits on the discretion of immigration courts to cancel removal where noncitizens have committed certain crimes. The recently issued U.S. Supreme Court decision in Barton v. Barr illustrates the troubling trend of affording less discretion for immigration courts to balance family life in removal decisions that involve underlying criminal conduct. At issue was the “stop-time rule” for measuring the requisite seven years of continuous residence for LPR cancellation of removal. A sharply divided court read the relevant statute very differently, and a five-justice majority interpreted the stop-time rule to further limit the discretion of immigration judges to consider noncitizens’ family ties as a defense against removal. However, modern international law doctrine suggests that customary international law is the law of the United States and should be applied to resolve questions of statutory meaning under the Charming Betsy rule of statutory interpretation. This Article lays plain the systematic nature of the violations of the human right to family life in the U.S. system of removal and argues that the U.S. Supreme Court erred when it failed to mitigate this harm in Barton v. Barr.