WASHINGTON – 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.
The decision came in the case of Roselva Chaidez, a Chicago woman who was born in Mexico. She has lived in Chicago for decades and had been a lawful permanent resident since 1977. Her lawyers said she has three children and two grandchildren.
In 1998, she admitted to receiving $1,200 from an insurance company for having falsely claimed to have been injured in an auto accident. The scheme, run by her son and others, netted $26,000, the government said.
Chaivez pleaded guilty to two counts of mail fraud, was sentenced to probation and was required to repay $22,000, the total amount received by her and her son. She completed her sentence and had paid her restitution by 2004. When she later applied for naturalization, she denied having been convicted of a crime. Only then did she learn that pleading guilty to mail fraud involving more than $10,000 meant that she was subject to deportation.
Chaivez filed a court petition in 2009 seeking to have her conviction overturned on the grounds that her lawyer failed to warn her of the consequences of her guilty plea. She could have argued that because she obtained only $1,200, her crime did not meet the $10,000 threshold for what the law deems an “aggravated felony.”
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.”