Yesterday, in this much anticipated opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that immigrants who have been convicted under state law of more than one minor drug possession offense cannot—without more—be deemed convicted of an aggravated "drug trafficking" felony for federal immigration purposes and thereby subjected to virtually automatic deportation. The Court unanimously rejected the government's harsh position that a second simple possession conviction under state law must always be equated to the serious federal felony of recidivist possession, and it ruled that the analogy to a federal recidivist offense could only be valid if proof of a prior possession conviction is required to be proven as an element under the state criminal statute in question (it was not in the case of Carachuri-Rosendo). The court concluded that treating minor state possession offenses as "aggravated felonies" and "drug trafficking" crimes simply defied the normal meaning of those terms.
This decision is an important victory for many long-term permanent resident immigrants in the United States who have minor drug possession convictions in their past because it means they will qualify to apply to immigration judges for discretionary pardons of these offenses to avoid deportation. Immigration judges will be allowed to weigh the immigrant's time in this country, ties to family and community, and other factors. Under the government's rejected view, all such immigrants would be deported without regards to their humanitarian equities. The decision also preserves eligibility for other crucial forms of immigration relief, including asylum. Earlier this year ILCM joined with the National Immigrant Justice Center and other organizations in filing this amicus curiae brief urging the result the Supreme Court reached yesterday.