Is Alcoholism Deportable Offense?

Is an alcoholic innately lacking in good moral character and thus someone who should be deported? That’s a question an 11-judge federal appeals panel with grapple with after voting to take up the case Thursday.

The full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to reconsider a March decision that struck down as unconstitutional an interpretation of immigration law that held a “habitual drunkard” lacked good moral character and was thus deportable.

Back in March, a three-judge panel voted 2-1 that Salomon Ledezma-Cosino could bring an equal protection challenge to a deportation order and have his status reconsidered.

Ledezma came to the U.S. illegally in 1997, works in construction and has eight children, five of them U.S. citizens, the court said.

Under immigration law Congress has said officials may cancel removal orders or allow aliens to voluntarily depart, (which improves their chances to return,) if they are of “good moral character.”  The law lists traits demonstrating good character and categories of people who lack it. On that list is “habitual drunkards.”

Ledezma asked to remain or be allowed to voluntarily depart but it was denied because he is an alcoholic. Ledesma’s court papers also say he overcame his condition and has stopped drinking.

“We hold that, under the Equal Protection Clause, a person’s medical disability lacks any rational relation to his classification as a person with bad moral character,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote in the original opinion.

The majority ordered his case reconsidered.

In dissent, Judge Richard Clifton argued the equal protection argument was not raised by Ledezma but was “an argument of the majority’s own creation.”  He called the ruling an unwarranted intrusion on the separation of powers and called for its correction.

On Thursday, a majority of 9th Circuit agreed and will re-hear the case before an 11-judge panel.

Case: Ledezma-Cosino v. Lynch, No. 12-73289



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