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Our partners at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC are filing a merits-stage amicus brief in the upcoming Supreme Court case, Lee v. United States, to advocate for immigrant families and communities and emphasize the harms of deportation. As the brief is focused on sharing some stories, they would like you to contact them with any stories you may have for inclusion.
NAPABA joined AAJC at the cert stage in this case and will be joining them on the attached draft brief.
They need the stories ASAP as they must have the final copy on Wednesday, Feb. 1. Please contact them directly at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any suggestions.
Case: Lee v. United States (No. 16-327)
What’s at Stake for Immigrant Families?
This case is about the harsh penalty that immigrant families faces when family members encounter the criminal justice system. Under current immigration laws, a conviction for even a minor non-violent offense, like simple drug possession, can subject non-citizens, including lawful permanent residents that have lived in the U.S. for decades, to mandatory deportation.
The consequences are devastating. As a result of a conviction that may lead only to probation or a suspended sentence, lawful immigrants can face permanent banishment from the U.S. and be sent to countries where they have no family, do not speak the language, and are at continuing risk of impoverishment, persecution, or death. Recognizing the life-altering cost to defendants and their families, the Supreme Court has mandated warnings before a non-citizen defendant pleads guilty to an offense that qualifies for automatic deportation.
The constitutional right to a warning is ineffective, however, unless defendants have access to a meaningful remedy that accounts for the full harms of deportation. Mr. Lee’s case illustrates the unfairness in ignoring those harms. After living in the U.S. lawfully for over 25 years, Mr. Lee pleaded guilty to possession of ecstasy. He told his attorney that he wanted to avoid deportation, and only agreed to a plea after his attorney advised (incorrectly) that he would not be deported to Korea. Despite the Sixth Circuit’s recognition that justice was not served by “exil[ing] a productive member of our society to a country he hasn’t lived in since his childhood for committing a relatively small-time drug offense,” the court found no prejudice and declined to grant Mr. Lee a remedy for his counsel’s ineffective assistance. The court concluded that it was irrational for Mr. Lee to demand a trial, since the evidence against him was allegedly strong.
It is critical that the Supreme Court confirm that a remedy is available to Mr. Lee and others confronting the same dilemma. For many defendants and their families, it is rational to risk a longer sentence by going to trial, rather than accept a plea that will lead to certain deportation. Focusing only on alleged proof of guilt—while ignoring the strength of family ties and other connections to the U.S.—improperly ignores the devastating humanitarian harms of deportation, and eliminates one of the only tools available to immigrant families to keep their families together—the right to insist on a trial when a family member faces mandatory removal from the U.S.
Summary of Planned Amicus Brief:
Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC and pro bono counsel from Wilmer Hale are drafting an amicus brief for immigrants’ rights groups supporting Mr. Lee. The brief focuses on explaining why non-citizen defendants and their families are entitled to a remedy for mistaken pleas that accounts for the harms of deportation in all cases. The brief will:
Tell the stories of other defendants in Mr. Lee’s position and explain why they would rationally elect to go to trial;
Explain the harsh circumstances that defendants experience following deportation to their country of origin and the resulting harms on family members left behind in the U.S.; and
Highlight how U.S. immigration policy has long recognized the importance of family unity and point out that the same legal principle should apply in assessing whether defendants are prejudiced by mistaken pleas that permanently separate them from family members.
Your Immigration Committee Co-Chairs