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Supreme Court to hear drug deportation case

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The Supreme Court said Monday it would consider whether a strict immigration law called for deporting noncitizens convicted of repeat misdemeanor drug offenses.

The case before the court involves a legal immigrant from Texas who pleaded guilty to possessing less than two ounces of marijuana and later pleaded guilty to possessing a single tablet of Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication.

Although the convictions were minor, judges in some regions have ruled that two misdemeanor convictions for drug possession can count as an “aggravated felony,” which is grounds for deportation.

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Lawyers for several immigrant rights groups appealed the case to the Supreme Court, arguing it did not make sense to say drug possession was the same as a serious offense, such as drug trafficking.

The justices voted to hear the case of Jose Angel Carachuri-Rosendo, who had lived in Texas since he was 4 and had been a lawful resident since 1993.

After Carachuri-Rosendo pleaded guilty to having the Xanax tablet, a federal immigration judge said he was due to be deported to Mexico because of his aggravated felony.

Carachuri-Rosendo appealed but lost in the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which ruled that a “second possession offense” called for deportation of a noncitizen.

Lawyers for the Obama administration agreed the high court should hear the case to clarify what constituted an aggravated felony.

In other action, the court dismissed a suit by four British Muslims who said they were tortured and abused at the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, between 2002 and 2004.

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They sued former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard B. Myers and other top civilian and military leaders in the George W. Bush administration.

But they lost in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which ruled the officials were immune from such claims.

The appeals court judges said officials could not be sued for their actions unless they violated a clearly established law, and the legal rights of the Guantanamo detainees were not clear until the Supreme Court ruled on the issue in 2006.

Eric Lewis, a lawyer for the four British men, urged the high court to hear the case, but the appeal was turned down without comment.

“It’s an awful day for the rule of law and common decency when the Supreme Court lets stand such an inhuman decision,” he said.

david.savage@latimes.com

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