As we have previously covered on this blog, federal immigration authorities may use minor criminal charges as a reason to initiate deportation proceedings. Something as seemingly inconsequential as a traffic violation can create serious legal issues for those who reside in Chicago without U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status.

Beyond minor criminal charges, serious criminal charges can actually result in automatic deportation action. Unfortunately, however, differences in state law may improperly define what constitutes a serious crime. This immigration-related legal issue was the subject of a recently decided U.S. Supreme Court case.

In this particular case, a man who had lived in the country for most of his life was arrested after cops found just over a gram of marijuana in his possession. Most states would consider this to be a minor drug possession charge, but this particular state's drug laws made it appear to be an "aggravated felony" in the eyes of the federal government. As such, immigration officials arrested the man and initiated the deportation process.

The majority of the court ruled that possessing a small amount of marijuana doesn't constitute a felony charge. As a result, possessing a small amount of marijuana shouldn't result in automatic deportation, regardless of how state laws are structured.

Now that the top court has handed down its decision, the man involved in this case will be given the chance to stop the deportation process. One of the main reasons the man desires to live in the country is that he has lived here since he was a toddler, so he considers the U.S. to be home.

This case shows how important it is for undocumented immigrants to take any sort of criminal charge very seriously and respond with a thoughtful criminal defense. Immigration officials will try to find any reason to begin deportation proceedings, even if it means forcing a person to uproot his or her entire life as the result of a minor legal issue.

Source: Associated Press, "Court limits deportations over marijuana crimes," Mark Sherman, April 23, 2013

  • Our firm has helped Illinois residents sort through criminal charges and immigration issues. To find out more, please visit our Chicago deportation defense page.