The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) heard arguments at the end of March in a case involving a man facing deportation after pleading guilty to a felony. Because of orders issued by President Trump in recent weeks, this case has taken on particular importance because of the potential increase in deportations pursued against immigrants who are accused of crimes.
Jae Lee came to the United States from South Korea with his family in 1982. He has never returned to his home country and has lived legally in the U.S. for 35 years. When he was charged with possession with intent to distribute ecstasy, his criminal defense attorney advised that pleading guilty to the charge would have no immigration consequences. His attorney, however, was not familiar with immigration laws or policies and failed to discuss the case with an experienced immigration attorney before providing the advice to his client. As a result of his guilty plea, Lee was placed in deportation proceedings and has been fighting to stop his deportation while in custody for seven years.
In 2010 SCOTUS held that the Constitution requires that immigrant defendants in criminal cases should be properly advised of the potential immigration consequences of a guilty plea. However, an appeals court found against Lee, stating he would have been convicted anyhow at trial, so the ineffective assistance of his counsel was harmless error. Lee argues that an effective attorney would have fought to negotiate a more favorable plea bargain that did not result in deportation. We will wait and see how SCOTUS decides this case.
In today’s current immigration landscape, a more favorable plea bargain may not even be a help to immigrants facing criminal charges. As part of the immigration-related executive orders issued by the new White House administration, the president ordered that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) adjust their definition of what criminal charges and convictions will make an immigrant a target for deportation.
Under the past administration, ICE was instructed to prioritize immigrants convicted of serious crimes as deportation targets. However, officials now have the latitude to substantially expand the definition and target many more individuals who are involved in the criminal process.
Now, anyone who is convicted of any type of criminal offense – even non-violent misdemeanors – will be considered a priority for deportation. Even people accused or suspected of crimes can be prioritized, even though they are considered innocent until proven guilty under the criminal justice process. Furthermore, the interpretation of “crime” may even extend to non-criminal violations.
Criminal defense attorneys representing immigrant clients may not always have a thorough understanding of the ever-changing immigration and deportation policies in the United States. It is essential for any immigrant facing any accusations to consult with a skilled Chicago immigration lawyer as soon as possible. Please call Kriezelman Burton & Associates today at 312-332-2550 for assistance.
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