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United States v. Amador-Bonilla.

Nos. 22-6036 & 22-6037. 5/29/2024. W.D.Okla. Judge Eid. 8 USC § 1326—Fifth Amendment—Equal Protection—Discriminatory Purpose or Intent—Racially Disparate Impact.

May 29, 2024

Amador-Bonilla is a citizen of Guatemala and Nicaragua. At age 15, he began entering the United States without authorization, and he was subsequently removed six times. Most recently, he was arrested in Oklahoma and charged with illegal reentry under 8 USC § 1326(a), for which he had already been convicted twice. He moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that § 1326 violates Fifth Amendment equal protection guarantees. The district court determined that rational basis review applied to his challenge and that the challenge failed because he failed to show there was no rational relationship between the disparity of treatment and a legitimate governmental purpose. The district court found that he had not demonstrated that § 1326 was passed with a discriminatory purpose as a motivating factor, and it denied the motion to dismiss the indictment. Amador-Bonilla entered a conditional guilty plea to one count of violating § 1326(a) and admitted to violating a condition of supervised release that was imposed after his conviction for the same offense in New Mexico.

On appeal, Amador-Bonilla argued that § 1326 violates the equal protection guarantees of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. He maintained that Congress enacted § 1326 for a discriminatory purpose and intent and that the statute has a racially disparate impact on Latinos that does not survive strict scrutiny under Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp., 429 U.S. 252 (1977). The parties agreed that § 1326 satisfies rational basis review. The Tenth Circuit did not resolve which standard of review applies because it determined that Amador-Bonilla’s equal protection claim fails under either standard. First, the Tenth Circuit determined that § 1326 treats all reentering aliens the same way, without regard to race or alienage, so it does not discriminate on its face. Therefore, Amador-Bonilla had to prove that Congress enacted the statute for a discriminatory purpose or intent and that the statute has a racially disparate impact. Here, Amador-Bonilla’s evidence focused mainly on the passage of the 1929 Undesirable Aliens Act, the predecessor of § 1326. However, § 1326 was passed as part of the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act, which both parties agreed should be the focus of the analysis. Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit reviewed (1) the similarities in language between the 1929 Act and the 1952 Act, (2) contemporaneous actions of Congress before and after the 1952 Act’s passage, and (3) statements by a Congressional member and other officials related to the passage of the 1952 Act. The Tenth Circuit concluded that (1) evidence of the discriminatory motivation for the 1929 Act lacks probative value for determining the legislature’s motivation in enacting the 1952 Act; (2) evidence about Congressional actions that occurred around the same time as the 1952 Act’s passage is insufficient to show that Congress intentionally reenacted the illegal reentry provision because of its disproportionate impact on Latinos; and (3) the statements by Congressional members and other officials do not support a conclusion that the law was passed for an impermissible purpose. Accordingly, Amador-Bonilla failed to show that Congress enacted § 1326 with a discriminatory purpose as a motivating factor, so § 1326 does not violate the Fifth Amendment.

The judgments were affirmed.

The full opinion is available at

Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.

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