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Washington — A Mexican immigrant who was deported from Michigan in 2015 over a case involving consensual sex with an underage girlfriend plans on returning to the state after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Michael Carlin, who represents Juan Esquivel-Quintana, 29, said it could take more than a month for his client to return but family members in the Ypsilanti area are elated that the case has been settled and are expecting his return soon, Carlin said.

“We expect that our client will be coming back to the United States and almost surely to Michigan,” Carlin told the Detroit News.

Carlin said his client hasn’t had a relationship with the girl since 2010.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday sided with Esquivel-Quintana. The justices ruled unanimously that while Esquivel-Quintana committed a crime under California law, his conduct did not violate federal immigration law.

Esquivel-Quintana was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials after he moved to Michigan in 2013, Carlin said. Held in a jail, he was eventually deported in January 2015.

“They didn’t touch him until he left,” Carlin said of his client who was arrested after he moved with his family from California to Michigan. “When he moved to Michigan, that’s when ICE swooped in and arrested him.”

The opinion comes as the Trump administration steps up enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws, including deporting those who commit crimes. Immigration arrests have increased 38 percent this year, compared with a similar period last year.

California law makes it a crime to have sex with anyone under 18 if the age difference is more than three years. That applied to Esquivel-Quintana, who had sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend before and after his 21st birthday.

But Esquivel-Quintana said his conduct would have been legal under federal law and the laws of 43 other states that are less strict. The government argued that courts should defer to immigration officials in interpreting laws that are vague.

Writing for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas said the generic federal definition of sexual abuse of a minor requires the victim to be younger than 16.

Since Esquivel-Quintana’s conduct did not constitute sexual abuse under federal immigration laws, Thomas said the state conviction did not count as an aggravated felony and he could not be deported.

Esquivel-Quintana moved to the United States with his family when he was 12 and became a lawful permanent resident. He served 90 days in jail after pleading no contest to the California charges involving sex with a minor.

He later moved to Michigan, where federal officials began the deportation proceedings. Immigration officials said he was convicted of “sexual abuse of a minor” — a deportable offense under federal immigration laws.

An immigration judge said he should be deported and the Board of Immigration Appeals agreed.

A divided federal appeals court affirmed that ruling.

Justice Neil Gorsuch took no part in the case, which was argued before he joined the Supreme Court.

Carlin said he has not spoken yet to Esquivel-Quintana.

lfleming@detroitnews.com

(313-222-2620

Twitter:@leonardnfleming

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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