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Grassley, Sessions Blast Appeals Court for Opening Immigration Benefits to ‘Habitual Drunkards’

A recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that struck down a law preventing “habitual drunkards” from being considered people of “moral character” in immigration benefit determinations was a “brazen display of judicial activism” that “endangers” communities, according to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).

“Because of this decision, countless aliens in Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and several territories, who abuse alcohol to the extent that they are habitually drunk – even those with multiple driving-under-the-influence convictions – will now be eligible for benefits under our immigration laws,” Grassley and Sessions, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, wrote Tuesday in a letter, obtained by Breitbart News, to Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

Last month the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the long-held statute, passed by Congress, rejecting aliens who are “habitual drunkards” from being defined as a person of “good moral character” when considering the alien for immigration benefits. The court specifically held that since alcoholism is a disease it does not have bearing on a person’s character.

According to Grassley and Sessions, not only does the Court’s holding smack of judicial activism but is places the nation’s communities at risk.

“There is a rational basis to deny immigration benefits to habitual drunkards, as distinguished from alcoholics who do not drink, in light of their manifest threat to public health and safety,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Lynch. The letter went on to say:

Yet the Ninth Circuit failed to recognize this clear rational basis, and concluded that it was unconstitutional to deny immigration benefits to a Mexican national living in the United States illegally, whose medical records document a “ten-year history of alcohol abuse, during which he drank an average of one liter of tequila each day,” – and whose abuse of alcohol led to at least one DUI conviction. As noted by the dissent, alcohol accounts for up to 55% of fatal driving events.

Grassley and Sessions further chastised the holding as a usurpation of Congress’s authority to determine who is allowed to remain in the U.S. and for how long, pointing out that the Supreme Court “has repeatedly emphasized that ‘over no conceivable subject is the legislative power of Congress more complete than it is over’ the admission of aliens.”

“If Congress directs the Executive to deny immigration benefits to an alien because he is a habitual drunkard, the Judiciary must ensure fidelity to the plainly written direction of Congress – not to rewrite the law because it disagrees with the policy decision,” they wrote.

Grassley and Sessions pressed Lynch and the Justice Department to defend the statute and explain to them by May 6 how it plans to move forward with the case.

Read the letter:

Dear Attorney General Lynch:

As you know, an alien seeking immigration benefits in a variety of circumstances has the burden of demonstrating that he or she has been a person of “good moral character” for a certain period of time. Congress elected in section 101(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), not to define who is a person of “good moral character” by articulating a list of altruistic qualities an alien should possess when making such a demonstration. Rather, Congress elected to define “good moral character” by articulating the circumstances under which an alien is precluded from making such a demonstration – including aliens who have convictions for aggravated felonies, aliens who have participated in genocide and acts of torture, aliens who have been incarcerated for six months, and aliens who are “habitual drunkards.”

On March 24, 2016, in a brazen display of judicial activism, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held as unconstitutional Congress’ decision to preclude any alien who is a “habitual drunkard” from being considered a person of “good moral character,” because, in the opinion of the court, “[t]here is no rational basis for classifying persons afflicted by chronic alcoholism as persons who innately lack good moral character.”

Because of this decision, countless aliens in Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and several territories, who abuse alcohol to the extent that they are habitually drunk – even those with multiple driving-under-the-influence convictions – will now be eligible for benefits under our immigration laws. This decision endangers our communities and erodes the constitutional power of Congress to determine which aliens should, and which should not, reside in the United States – a fundamental right of any sovereign nation.

The Ninth Circuit failed to comprehend the clear danger that habitual drunkards pose to our communities. There is a rational basis to deny immigration benefits to habitual drunkards, as distinguished from alcoholics who do not drink, in light of their manifest threat to public health and safety. Yet the Ninth Circuit failed to recognize this clear rational basis, and concluded that it was unconstitutional to deny immigration benefits to a Mexican national living in the United States illegally, whose medical records document a “ten-year history of alcohol abuse, during which he drank an average of one liter of tequila each day,” – and whose abuse of alcohol led to at least one DUI conviction. As noted by the dissent, alcohol accounts for up to 55% of fatal driving events.

Yet these events are not mere statistics. They are tragedies that affect Americans all across this country. A few months ago, an illegal alien who was driving under the influence of alcohol killed Sarah Root, a young woman from Iowa. In another recent case, an illegal alien driving under the influence hit Chelsea Hogue’s car in Louisville, Kentucky, resulting in serious injuries. These two examples alone show the dangers that drinking and driving, let alone habitual drinking, can cause to the safety and well-being of the public.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision not only endangers the safety of our communities, but also the tears at the constitutional fabric of this great nation. The Supreme Court “has repeatedly emphasized that ‘over no conceivable subject is the legislative power of Congress more complete than it is over’ the admission of aliens.” Indeed, it has “long recognized the power to expel or exclude aliens as a fundamental sovereign attribute exercised by the Government’s political departments largely immune from judicial control.”

Moreover, Congress has explicitly given the Executive authority to deny admission to, remove, or deny relief from removal to an alien for a broad array of reasons, including for a medical condition. If Congress directs the Executive to deny immigration benefits to an alien because he is a habitual drunkard, the Judiciary must ensure fidelity to the plainly written direction of Congress – not to rewrite the law because it disagrees with the policy decision.

We demand action by the Department of Justice to defend the laws duly passed by Congress. Please advise in detail, no later than May 6, 2016, as to how the Department of Justice intends to proceed with this case.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  We look forward to your response.

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