Other than a marijuana joint police found in his pocket 10 years ago, Florida construction worker Fidencio Resendiz has stayed out of trouble, supporting his family while avoiding immigration agents. The Miami Herald says Resendiz’s old pot arrest has become a federal case that could keep him and thousands of other illegal immigrants with minor drug records from being deported.
A three-judge federal appeals panel heard arguments Wednesday. At issue is whether U.S. immigration authorities can use minor state drug convictions for first offenders as a basis for deporting illegal immigrants, even when the same conviction in federal court cannot be grounds for deportation. The answer depends on two federal laws that are being interpreted in conflicting ways. The Federal First Offender Act allows judges to place first-time drug offenders found guilty of simple possession on probation for up to one year. At the end of the year, the court dismisses the case, leaving the offender without a conviction. But thousands of illegal immigrants are prosecuted for small drug offenses in state courts, where the federal law does not apply.