INS v. St. Cyr, 533 U.S. 289, 3 (2001)

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Cite as: 533 U. S. 289 (2001)


(a) A statute's language must require that it be applied retroactively. Bowen v. Georgetown Univ. Hospital, 488 U. S. 204, 208. The first step in the impermissible-retroactive-effect determination is to ascertain whether Congress has directed with the requisite clarity that the law be applied retrospectively. Martin v. Hadix, 527 U. S. 343, 352. Such clarity is not shown by the comprehensiveness of IIRIRA's revision of federal immigration law, see Landgraf v. USI Film Products, 511 U. S. 244, 260-261, by the promulgation of IIRIRA's effective date, see id., at 257, or by IIRIRA 309(c)(1)'s "saving provision." Pp. 314-320.

(b) The second step is to determine whether IIRIRA attaches new legal consequences to events completed before its enactment, a judgment informed and guided by considerations of fair notice, reasonable reliance, and settled expectations. Landgraf, 511 U. S., at 270. IIRIRA's elimination of 212(c) relief for people who entered into plea agreements expecting that they would be eligible for such relief clearly attaches a new disability to past transactions or considerations. Plea agreements involve a quid pro quo between a criminal defendant and the government, and there is little doubt that alien defendants considering whether to enter into such agreements are acutely aware of their convictions' immigration consequences. The potential for unfairness to people like St. Cyr is significant and manifest. Now that prosecutors have received the benefit of plea agreements, facilitated by the aliens' belief in their continued eligibility for 212(c) relief, it would be contrary to considerations of fair notice, reasonable reliance, and settled expectations to hold that IIRIRA deprives them of any possibility of such relief. The INS' argument that application of deportation law can never have retroactive effect because deportation proceedings are inherently prospective is not particularly helpful in undertaking Landgraf's analysis, and the fact that deportation is not punishment for past crimes does not mean that the Court cannot consider an alien's reasonable reliance on the continued availability of discretionary relief from deportation when deciding the retroactive effect of eliminating such relief. That 212(c) relief is discretionary does not affect the propriety of this Court's conclusion, for there is a clear difference between facing possible deportation and facing certain deportation. Pp. 320-326.

229 F. 3d 406, affirmed.

Stevens, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. O'Connor, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 326. Scalia, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in


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