Delegated to the State: Immigration Federalism and Post-Conviction Sentencing Adjustments in Matter of Thomas & Thompson
David G. Blitzer
In Matter of Thomas & Thompson, former Attorney General William Barr argued that states have no role to play in immigration matters and thus, state adjustments to a criminal sentence post-conviction will not be given effect for adjudicating deportability based on criminal grounds under section 101(a)(48)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act without an underlying substantive or procedural flaw in the original criminal case. The former Attorney General incorrectly assumed that states cannot be involved in immigration decisionmaking. Not only is it constitutionally permissible for the federal government to delegate certain immigration powers to the states, but the immigration code does so in many places. Careful examination of the text and legislative history of section 101(a)(48)(B) reveals that whatever sentence the state deems operative counts for immigration purposes—even if state law considers the operative sentence a later adjustment—implying that Matter of Thomas & Thompson put forth an erroneous interpretation.