Every day, minors are brought over the border to the United States illegally by their parents, who hope to provide their children with better lives than they would be able to in their home countries. Many of these children successfully make it across, settle down, and for years go undetected. In the meantime, they go to public schools, learn English, become accustomed to American life and culture, and end up having the same dreams and hopes as any child born in the United States. This includes the dream of getting a college education.
Any many illegal immigrants do just that. They work hard, apply, and get accepted to universities across the nation. However, all the hard work and big dreams could be quickly taken away, for something as minor as a traffic violation. This is because DHS has a program known as 287(g) that allows local sheriffs to handle federal immigration law enforcement, part of the strict immigration legislation intending to prevent the presence of illegal immigrants in the country.
In order to help minors who have been in the country for years, have gone to school, and have not had any problems with the law, proposed legislation known as the Dream Act is intended to provide illegal students with a path to becoming legal. Officially called the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act has met much opposition, however, by those who see illegal immigrants as a burden on society, especially minors whom have benefited from the American public education system. But, those in supportive of it say it is only right to allow minors, whom often times had no part in the decision making process to enter the country illegally, should not later be punished when they have done everything they can after getting to the country to be worthy citizens and contribute to the country they call home.
The Supreme Court held in Graham v. Florida, by a 5 to 4 vote, that juveniles who have not committed homicide cannot be denied the change to ever rejoin society by given a life sentence without a reasonable opportunity for obtaining parole. The Court found that such a sentence would be a violation of the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
This case goes one step beyond the Court’s 2005 decision banning executions of juveniles for any crime. These lines of cases have been based on the “evolving standards of decency.” The Court has noted that juvenile advocates and child psychologists stress that children and adults process thoughts and actions differently and thus must be treated differently under the law.
The majority decision by Justice Kennedy was met with harsh dissents. Justine Roberts, while agreeing that the sentence in the specific case at hand was unconstitutionally harsh, disagreed with the broader holding, arguing that it should be considered on a case-by-case basis whether a life sentence is proper, because some crimes are simply so heinous, that even if it does not involve the actual death of a human, they are still worthy of the death penalty, even if the crime is, say, committed by a 17 year old, as opposed to an 18 year old. Justice Thomas further argued that basing the decision on the “evolving standards of decency” is “entirely the court’s creation” and thus Kennedy’s logic fails.
Commentators speculate that the decision will lead to an influx in litigation regarding juveniles whom have been serving life sentences for non-homicide crimes. Further, as the Supreme Court has been steadily deciding cases in protection of juveniles, it is questionable how far this protection could be extended.
Florida v. Graham, 560 U.S. ____ (2010).