Justices take case on illegal immigrant possessing guns

January 11, 2019

The Supreme Court said Friday it will take a case involving an illegal immigrant who claims he didn’t know his status had lapsed when he went to shoot a gun at a range, thus violating a law against illegal immigrants possessing weaponry.

Hamid Rehaif, a citizen of the United Arab Emirates, was studying on a student visa at the Florida Institute of Technology when the school sent emails saying he’d been “academically dismissed,” and his visa would be ending.

Ten months later he was found in possession of ammunition and admitted he’d been to a firing range where he rented weapons to shoot putting in violation of a federal ban on illegal immigrants possessing guns or ammunition.

He says wanted to argue that he never got the emails so he didn’t know he was no longer legally in the country and thus didn’t “knowingly” violate the law but the lower courts made that point moot.

Mr. Rehaif is asking the justices to overturn his conviction and give him the chance to argue he wasn’t aware.

“It is lawful to go to a shooting range and rent a gun to shoot there, and to purchase ammunition. The only thing that makes such conduct illegal, under [the law], is if the person happens to be illegally or unlawfully in the United States at the time,” his lawyers argued.

At issue is whether the law requires that someone both knows he’s in possession of weaponry and knows that he is in the country illegally.

The lower courts ruled that the law only requires someone to knowingly posses the firearm even if weren’t aware of their illegal status.

The federal Justice Department said every court to rule on the matter has found that the “knowingly” standard only applies to the firearms possession.

But Mr. Rehaif points to writings by then-Judge Neil M. Gorsuch now on the Supreme Court who has said the “knowingly” standard must apply both to the firearms possession and their prohibited status.

U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco, in his brief to the court, said Mr/ Rehaif’s challenge is a poor test anyway.

He said the man “admitted to an FBI agent that he knew that his student visa his sole basis for lawful presence in the country was no longer valid at the time he possessed the firearms and ammunition.”

Mr. Rehaif, in his lawyers’ briefs, said he never responded to the emails informing of his status and the FBI interview wasn’t recorded, so he can argue he wasn’t aware his status had lapsed.

The case is Rehaif v. U.S. No argument date has been set.

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