Supreme Court ruling in favor of immigrant clarifies automatic-deportation law

The Texas man was ordered deported for possession of a marijuana cigarette and one Xanax pill. But justices say only serious crimes warrant the removal of legal immigrants from the country.

By David G. Savage, Tribune Washington Bureau
June 14, 2010 9:11 a.m.

Reporting from Washington — The Supreme Court blocked the government Tuesday from deporting legal immigrants for minor drug possession charges, ruling that only serious or violent crimes called for removing otherwise law-abiding people from this country.

In a 9-0 decision, the justices stopped the deportation of a Texas man who had pleaded guilty at different times to having a marijuana cigarette and a single Xanax pill, a prescription anti-anxiety drug.

Based on these convictions, an immigration judge and the U.S. Court of Appeals slated Jose Carachuri-Rosendo for deportation to Mexico, where he was born. At age 4, he had come to Texas with his parents and had become a lawful permanent resident with a wife and four children.

His case illustrates the potentially harsh effects of a 1996 federal law that requires the deportation of non-citizens who are guilty of an "aggravated felony." Congress did not carefully define this term, however, and some immigration judges have said that a second drug-possession conviction could qualify as an aggravated felony.

The Supreme Court rejected that view in Tuesday's opinion in Carachuri-Rosendo vs. Holder. "We do not usually think of a 10-day sentence for the unauthorized possession of a trivial amount of a prescription drug as an 'aggravated felony,' " wrote Justice John Paul Stevens.

The 1996 law and its automatic-deportation rule applies to all non-citizens who are living in the United States.

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

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