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U.S. Supreme Court contemplates important immigration issue

Whether immigrants have entered the country legally through a family or employment-based visa process or have entered the country illegally, certain behaviors on their part can prompt federal authorities to deport them. It is therefore critical that anyone affected by personal immigration to the United States understands what behavior can and cannot lead to deportation.

The United States Supreme Court is currently considering whether or not to extend certain informational protections to immigrants whose false or earnest guilty pleas can lead to an unwanted ticket back to whatever country they immigrated from.

Essentially, a Supreme Court case handed down in March of 2010 insisted that immigrants are entitled to basic information on the potential deportation consequences of pleading guilty to alleged criminal conduct. However, courts have been split since 2010 on the question of whether this right applies to immigrants who had pled guilty to crimes before the decision was handed down and were then awaiting deportation as a result.

Some lower courts have held that the 2010 decision resulted in a new constitutional protection, while others insist that the Supreme Court merely clarified and insisted on enforcement of an inherent protection. Since 1989, "new" constitutional laws handed down by the Court do not apply retroactively unless expressly noted as such.

Whatever the Supreme Court eventually decides on this split circuit interpretation will affect the fates of thousands of immigrants awaiting deportation for pleading guilty to alleged crimes committed in the United States, or for disclosing earlier criminally related guilty pleas.

Source: Reuters, "Supreme Court weighs expanded warnings on deportation risk," Jonathon Stempel, Nov. 1, 2012

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