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Retired Supreme Court Justice O’Connor weighed in on the recent Senate bill passed in her home state of Arizona.  While acknowledging that Arizona does have a legitimate concern with immigrants illegally crossing the border from Mexico, she still finds that the Bill goes to far.  The bill, on its face, allows state police officers to question a person’s residency status, and if information is not adequately provided the person can be imprisoned and even deported.  While many argue that this law only does what federal law already allows federal agents to do, O’Conner looked beyond the face of the law when expressing concern that it would allow officers to target people who look Hispanic, thus legalizing racial profiling.  She has no doubt that the law will be the subject of extensive litigation over application and the constitutionality of the law.

In the United States, the immigration system and the criminal system are closely, but inconspicuously, related.  Attorneys and immigrants alike frequently fail to realize the potential ramifications for pleading guilty to a seemingly minor criminal charge.  In some cases, a misdemeanor drug offense can lead to removal from the country, regardless of any other positive factors favoring allowing the immigrant to stay.

The Supreme Court is set to reconsider this issue in Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder.  Mr. Carachuri-Rosendo was a longtime legal resident of Texas, settled down with a fiancée and four children, all of whom are Unites States citizens.  But, after he had a couple of convictions for possession of marijuana and a tablet of Xanax, a common anti-anxiety drug, he found himself deported back to Mexico, leaving the life he had known for years behind.

Another example of this is Mr. Lemaine, a case cited in amicus briefs dealing with the same issue as Mr. Carachuri-Rosendo.  Mr. Lemaine came to the United States from Haiti at the age of three.  As a teenager, he was caught with a small amount of marijuana, but this case was dropped.  Then, in 2007, he was again caught with a small amount of marijuana, and his legal aid counsel advised him to enter a guilty plea, and agree to pay the mere $100 fine.  This normally would seem like the best way to handle such a charge; however, neither party was aware that this had drastic consequences for his immigration status.  Before he knew it, he was in handcuffs, on his way to Texas to face an immigration judge, and eventual deportation.

In neither of these cases, were the defendants able to raise defenses in their favor, such as how both have large amounts of family in the United States, with little to return to in their home country.  Nor does it matter that, in the grand scheme of our criminal justice system, the charges that were brought against them are minor; neither seemed to pose any large threat to public safety.

For now, both defendants must wait for a ruling in Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder, their last hope for staying in the United States and continuing the lives they have known.