Immigration Nation: High Court offers commonsense opinion in Padilla v. Kentucky

On the day the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Padilla v. Kentucky, a quiet drama played out in the George Foley U.S. Courthouse here in Las Vegas, where an illegal alien entered a plea to simple assault.

The issue in Padilla is not whether a non-citizen has the right to assistance of counsel; the 14th Amendment pretty much settled that question, but rather, does a non-citizen have the right to effective legal counsel.

Padilla, who honorably served in the U.S. military and has lived in the country for 50 years, picked up a drug rap and pleaded guilty after his attorney told him a conviction would not cause him to be deported.

That was bad advice because drug convictions have joined a growing list of crimes that mandate deportation. Refreshingly, the highest court in the land was not overly partisan on this issue as justices ruled in favor of Jose Padilla 7 to 2. Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented, with Scalia drafting a frightening opposition.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Jardiel Melendez-Martinez pleaded guilty to simple assault in the federal courtroom of Judge Kent Dawson. When Dawson tried to set a sentencing hearing, Martinez’s attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Brenda Weksler asked the judge to waive her client’s presentence investigation. She was fearful Martinez’s residency status might lead to his deportation.

Weksler knew the misdemeanor conviction was not enough to get her client deported, but in today’s hyper-sensitive immigration climate, she probably sensed a PSI writer might recommend deportation. After all, contrary to popular opinion, federal judges deport illegal immigrants every day. By the busload. Literally.  

But the picture most foes of sensible immigration reform have of illegal immigrants is of the gangsters who come over the border to engage in criminal activity. The plain fact is, like all immigrants, the great majority of this particular wave simply wants a shot at a better life.

Really, would you be willing to deport someone like Jose Padilla, who has lived here for decades and, until recently, lived an honorable life? Or Jardiel Melendez-Martinez, who works two menial jobs to support his family?  

Read this fascinating opinion here.