The fate of thousands of noncitizens may hinge on a case to be argued today before the Supreme Court, in a challenge to the way the U.S. government interprets immigration laws about drug-related convictions, reports the New York Times. Federal officials maintain that for deportation purposes, two convictions for drug possession add up to the equivalent of drug trafficking, an “aggravated felony” that requires expulsion and prohibits immigration courts from granting exceptions based on individual life circumstances.
That interpretation of 1996 has been rejected by four judicial circuits. Two circuits have upheld it, most notably the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which covers Louisiana and Texas – states where the government routinely transfers tens of thousands of immigration detainees each year, mainly from the Northeast. The case before the Supreme Court involves a longtime legal resident of Texas who was deported to Mexico based on convictions for possession of marijuana and a tablet of Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug. His fiancée and four children, all U.S. citizens, were left behind.