The Supreme Court yesterday debated whether thousands of longtime legal immigrants in the U.S., including business owners and military veterans, must be deported if they have been convicted of drug possession, says the Los Angeles Times. A 10-year-old federal law demands deportation for noncitizens who commit “aggravated felonies.” Despite the law’s focus on expelling felons and drug traffickers, the government has insisted on deporting some immigrants who pleaded guilty to possessing drugs, sometimes just small amounts of marijuana. Those crimes are considered minor matters under federal law, but in some states they are classified as felonies.
Several justices voiced doubt about that approach. “Isn’t that very strange that Congress would have wanted a reading of the statute that would turn its definition of a misdemeanor crime into an aggravated felony for purposes of the immigration laws?” asked Justice David H. Souter. U.S. Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler said the federal law “looks to state law.” If a drug crime is a felony under state law, it is a felony that leads to deportation under federal law, he said. Chief Justice John Roberts told the government’s lawyer: “It must give you pause that your analysis is of a term – ‘drug-trafficking crime’ or ‘illicit trafficking’ – and your theory leads to the conclusion that simple possession equates with drug trafficking.”