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The Supreme Court on Thursday dealt a blow to some longtime illegal residents, upholding the deportation of a Mexican man who lived in the United States for 20 years. By an 8-1 vote, justices said that Humberto Fernandez-Vargas, who was deported several times from the 1970s to 1981, is subject to a 1996 law Congress passed to streamline the legal process for expelling aliens who have been deported at least once before and returned. After his last deportation in 1981, Fernandez-Vargas returned to the United States, fathered a child, started a trucking company in Utah and eventually married his longtime companion, a U.S. citizen. But by the time he applied for legal status — after his marriage in 2001 — Congress had passed the Illegal Immigration and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which revoked the right to appeal to an immigration judge an order of removal. Fernandez-Vargas was sent back to Mexico in 2004 and wanted to return to his family in the United States. He argued that the 1996 law should not be applied to him because he last entered America more than a decade before Congress passed the statute. “Fernandez-Vargas continued to violate the law by remaining in this country day after day and … the United States was entitled to bring that continuing violation to an end,” Justice David Souter wrote in the decision. It was unclear how broad of an impact the ruling would have. Souter said that unlawful immigrants like Fernandez-Vargas should have known about the 1996 law and taken “advantage of a grace period.” The case is Fernandez-Vargas v. Gonzales, 04-1376. Justices side with government in duress case Also on Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that states can make it tougher for accused criminals to claim they were coerced into breaking the law. Justices ruled 7-2 against a Texas woman who claimed her abusive boyfriend forced her to illegally buy him guns. The court looked at a single issue: whether the burden should have been on Keshia Dixon to show she was under duress or on the government to disprove it. In a victory for the Bush administration and prosecutors, the court said that criminal defendants must face that hurdle. The ruling clears the way for states to change their laws. Justices had been told that 29 states require their prosecutors to disprove a coercion defense. Dixon had claimed her abusive boyfriend hit her and held a gun to her head before taking her to get guns. Dixon claimed she was suffering from battered woman’s syndrome and that her boyfriend took her to a gun show while his accomplices stayed home with her teenage daughters. Because she was facing criminal charges in a check-cashing scheme, it was illegal to buy guns. The administration argued that a ruling for Dixon would help drug carriers and others avoid prison, claiming they were coerced. Dixon provided an incorrect address and stated in the weapons paperwork that she was not facing criminal charges. She was sentenced to nearly three years in prison. The case is Dixon v. United States, 05-7053. Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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