WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court blocked the government Monday 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 Monday's opinion in Carachuri-Rosendo v. 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.
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