U.S. Supreme Court Refuses to Block Deportation of Immigrants

David G. Savage, StarTribune, February 20, 2013

The U.S. Supreme Court refused Wednesday to block the deportation of a Chicago woman and thousands of other immigrants who pleaded guilty in the past to serious crimes and were not warned by their lawyers that a criminal record targeted them for removal.

The decision highlights the stark consequences for noncitizens of having a criminal record. The current law calls for mandatory deportation for immigrants, including lawful residents, who have an “aggravated felony” on their record. The term can describe a variety of state and federal offenses.

Lawyers say tens of thousands of immigrants, many of them lawful permanent residents, plead guilty each year to crimes that may lead to them being deported.

Three years ago, the high court ruled that lawyers had a duty to warn noncitizens of the prospect that a guilty plea would lead to their deportation. But in a 7-2 ruling Wednesday, the justices said their earlier decision cannot be applied retroactively to extend relief to immigrants who pleaded guilty to serious offenses before 2010.

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The high court refused to extend its earlier decision to aid those who pleaded guilty before the ruling. Justice Elena Kagan said that the 2010 ruling amounted to a major change in the law, and the court has not applied such changes retroactively to old cases. She said, “Defendants whose convictions became final prior to Padilla therefore cannot benefit from its holding.”

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