California Immigration Advocates Applaud Supreme Court Decision to Uphold Integrity of Criminal Justice System for Immigrants

  • 4/1/2010
  • Angie Junck
  • ILRC & IDP
  • Source: Immigration (Decommissioned) > Defending Immigrants Partnership



Angie Junck, Staff Attorney, Immigrant Legal Resource Center (San Francisco, CA)

California Immigration Advocates Applaud Supreme Court Decision to Uphold Integrity of Criminal Justice System for Immigrants

Washington, D.C. (March 31, 2010) – The Immigrant Legal Resource Center and the University of California at Davis, Immigration Law Clinic applauds the Supreme Court’s decision issued today in a landmark decision in Padilla v. Kentucky, holding that defense lawyers must affirmatively advise their clients about the immigration consequences of pleading guilty.


The Supreme Court’s decision is of particular importance to California, which by some statistics represents 26.3% of the total foreign-born population and 22.6% of the total undocumented population in the United States.

“The Padilla decision sends a clear message that in a state like California, immigration issues cannot be ignored in the representation of noncitizen defendants,” said Angie Junck, staff attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in San Francisco. “Even though the law in California already dictates that lawyers accurately advise their clients on the immigration consequences of criminal pleas, this decision further ensures that defense counsel consider the potentially dire consequences of a criminal case on a noncitizen.”


“Today’s decision in Padilla directs counsel to ensure that decisions to plead guilty will be intelligent and voluntary,” added Cynthia Hujar Orr, President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

This case centered on Mr. Jose Padilla, a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) who has lived in the U.S. for four decades and who served in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. His criminal defense attorney had told him that pleading guilty to a drug charge would not lead to deportation. This advice was patently wrong. In his appeal, Mr. Padilla argued that his defense attorney's misadvice about deportation consequences amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel.

ILRC, along with other defender organizations across the country, had filed a “friend of the court” brief that the Court relied upon in its ruling. According to this brief, prevailing professional responsibilities and some state laws dictate that criminal defense lawyers must advise clients about deportation. Many defender offices already train staff on immigration consequences with the help of networks of experts. ILRC alongside UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic itself has responded to thousands of inquiries from criminal defenders in California and throughout the Ninth Circuit about immigration consequences of criminal dispositions.

The Supreme Court's decision in Padilla acknowledges that as a result of the 1996 immigration laws, even low-level offenses – such as one-time shoplifting or marijuana possession – can lead to deportation for all types of immigrants, including green card holders. In many of these cases, immigration judges are not even allowed to consider immigrants’ length of time in the country, U.S. citizen spouses and children, or other equities.


As the Court recognized, the immigration consequences of a plea may be far more serious than the criminal consequences. This is especially true when no-jail misdemeanors qualify as "aggravated felonies," causing the automatic deportation of long-time permanent residents and separation of family members.

“For many of our clients, deportation operates as one of the harshest consequences. With deportation may come detention, family separation, and as the Supreme Court said in 1922, a loss of ‘all that makes life worth living,” said Raha Jorjani, clinical professor at the Immigration Law Clinic at UC Davis. “The Padilla decision affirms the critical necessity for defense counsel to communicate immigration consequences of pleas to non-citizen defendants. In light of often unforgiving immigration consequences - often for non-violent, first-time, misdemeanors - the Supreme Court’s decision in Padilla does not arrive a moment too soon.”


The Immigrant Legal Resource Center serves as a resource and training center on criminal-immigration issues for criminal defense lawyers in California and the Ninth Circuit and immigration advocates.


The University of California at Davis, Immigration Law Clinic provides technical assistance and training to criminal defense lawyers in California and represents many immigrants in deportation proceedings as a result of contact in the criminal justice system.


The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is a professional bar association that ensures justice and due process for persons accused of crime or other misconduct.

Defending Immigrants Partnership – a national collaboration between Immigrant Defense Project, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and National Legal Aid & Defender Association – works to ensure that indigent noncitizen defendants are provided effective criminal defense counsel to avoid or minimize the immigration consequences of their criminal dispositions.

  • Immigration