On Dec. 5, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of an immigrant deported for a first-time drug conviction in South Dakota. “Conduct that is a felony under state law but a misdemeanor under the Controlled Substances Act is not a felony for purposes of immigration,” stated the majority opinion by Justice David Souter in the case, Lopez v. Gonzales, 05-7664. Jose Antonio Lopez became a lawful permanent resident in 1990; in 1997 he pled guilty to state charges of aiding and abetting possession of drugs for having told someone where to obtain cocaine. He served 15 months in prison for the crime, which is a felony in South Dakota but a misdemeanor under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Treating a misdemeanor under the federal law as a felony for deportation purposes “would be so much trickery,” Souter wrote. Justice Clarence Thomas dissented.
The ruling means Lopez and others in the same situation are not barred from seeking relief from deportation, and that immigration judges have the discretion to allow them to stay in the US. Lopez was deported to Mexico in January 2006; one of his lawyers said he could now file a request to cancel his removal order and return to his US citizen wife and children. (AP, Dec. 5; Los Angeles Times, Dec. 6)
From Immigration News Briefs, Jan. 5
See our last post on the immigration crackdown.