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Minor Drug Cases, Major Trouble for Immigrants
Posted by: AJ 11:15am, Tuesday, 30 March 2010
When a police officer in this Long Island suburb found a marijuana cigarette in Jerry Lemaine’s pocket one night in January 2007, a Legal Aid lawyer counseled him to plead guilty. Under state statutes, the penalty was only a $100 fine, and though Mr. Lemaine had been caught with a small amount of marijuana years earlier as a teenager, that case had been dismissed.

But Mr. Lemaine, a legal permanent resident, soon discovered that his quick guilty plea had dire consequences. Immigration authorities flew him in shackles to Texas, where he spent three years behind bars, including 10 months in solitary confinement, as he fought deportation to Haiti, the country he had left at age 3.

Under federal rulings that prevailed in Texas, Mr. Lemaine had lost the legal opportunity that rulings in New York would have allowed: to have an immigration judge weigh his offenses, including earlier misdemeanors resolved without jail time, against other aspects of his life, like his nursing studies at Hunter Business School; his care for his little sister, a United States citizen with a brain disorder; and the help he gave his divorced mother, who had worked double shifts to move the family out of a dangerous Brooklyn neighborhood.
...
Aaron D. Simowitz, 31, who shouldered part of the legal work, said the case often seemed surreal. For example, the New York criminal court refused to vacate, or erase, Mr. Lemaine’s first marijuana conviction, reasoning that there was nothing to vacate because the conviction did not exist; the case had been dismissed, as planned, after a six-month adjournment. But in Texas, the federal government still counted that as a conviction.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/31/nyregion/31drug.html?pagewanted=1&hp

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