The U.S. government does not generally try to deport immigrants to countries that refuse to accept them because in most cases that would be literally impossible. However, the law is not clear on whether noncitizens can be sent back to countries without a government.
In Somalia there is no government to oppose deportation. In writing for the majority, Scalia concluded that the complex regulations governing deportation allow the United States to forcibly repatriate immigrants without their countries' acquiescence.
"To infer an absolute rule of acceptance where Congress has not clearly set it forth would run counter to our customary policy of deference to the president in matters of foreign affairs," he wrote.
Government attorneys had argued that curbing the government's ability to deport people to Somalia would be especially troubling because that African country has been linked to terrorism.
In the minority opinion, Justice David H. Souter argued that the regulations have previously been interpreted as requiring the receiving country to accept the deported immigrant.
The case has implications that go far beyond a single immigrant in Minneapolis. A class-action lawsuit on behalf of 4,000 Somalis that originated in Seattle is pending in an appellate court. It argues that they cannot be sent home without that nation's permission. Two years ago, a Seattle judge in that case issued an injunction halting the deportation. The U.S. government can now seek to have the injunction lifted.
"It would be our sincere hope that Homeland Security doesn't proceed to remove people to Somalia under the current conditions there," said Nick Gellert, a Seattle lawyer who represents the Somali nationals. "It's not just a matter of legal principle. It's a matter of humanitarian issues."
The Somalis face deportation because they are in the country illegally or are legal residents but have been convicted of a crime.
Yusuf Ahmed, a local Somali leader, said the decision would be disturbing to thousands of Somalis in the Washington area.
"There is no government back home. The refugees who come here run for their lives. I'm sure that when they go back, they will be facing harsh situations of killing, raping or bad things," he said.