Longtime Legal Resident Deported for Minor Drug Offenses Could Get New Day in Court

This week’s Supreme Court order banning automatic deportation of immigrants for minor drug offenses could impact thousands of of lawful permanent residents who were mislabeled as aggravated felons.

“It would make me happy if I could return to Chicago,” Martin Escobar told Deportation Nation by phone from Morelos, Mexico, about 100 miles south of Mexico City. “All my family is in the United States. They were born there, and now the only person who is here is myself.”

Escobar lived in Chicago for more than ten years, working for a tree care company and supporting a household that included his wife, four children and two grandchildren. Over the years he racked up two misdemeanor drug possession convictions, but never served any time in jail.

But because of new technology that allows ICE to match immigrants with criminal records, these convictions caught the eye of immigration authorities. That’s because judges in the Fifth and Seventh Circuits consider a second drug offense – even if it is a minor possession charge – to be an aggravated felony. This level of offense made his deportation mandatory.

“Immigration judges in many cases didn’t even want to hear about the facts if the law said the person was ineligible,” said Chuck Roth, Director of Litigation for the National Immigrant Justice Center, which is handling Escobar’s appeal.

The Supreme Court’s ruling essentially overturns this interpretation of the law, and allows judges to use discretion in deciding whether an immigrant should be deported for such offenses.

Now Escobar, and potentially thousands of other legal residents, will get a second chance to have their day in court. This time the judge has the option of considering his extended family connections in the U.S. and other factors that suggest they ought to be allowed to stay.

“When you have somebody like Mr. Escobar whose crimes were committed more than a decade ago, who has substantial family ties to the United States, who’s lived here for a long period of time, that’s the kind of case where you have a very good chance of winning,” Roth said.

Escobar hopes the judge will exercise discretion, now that he has a chance to use it.

“Without me my family can’t pay for the mortgage, the water, the lights,” he said. “They need me to be there to help support the household.”