Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, March 25, 2016


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Ninth Circuit Panel Says Law on Deportation of ‘Habitual Drunkards’ Is Unconstitutional


By a MetNews Staff Writer


A federal law characterizing any alien who is a “habitual drunkard” as lacking the good character required for relief from deportation is unconstitutional, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.

In a 2-1 decision, the court said 8 U.S.C. §1101(f)(1) violates the Equal Protection Clause because it is irrational to treat someone as lacking in moral character based on alcoholism, which Ninth Circuit precedent treats as an illness.

The sick, Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the court, should not be placed in the same category as others barred by the statute, including “people who have participated in genocide or torture, been convicted of an aggravated felony or several gambling offenses, spent 180 days in custody as a result of a conviction or convictions, [or] lied to obtain a benefit in immigration proceedings.”

The court remanded Salomon Ledezma-Cosino’s case to the Board of Immigration Appeals for a new hearing.  Ledezma-Cosino is a citizen of Mexico who entered the United States in 1997 without being legally admitted and has been in the country since that time except for a few brief departures; has eight children, five of whom are United States citizen; and supports his family by working in the construction industry, the court noted.

Reinhardt rejected the government’s “deplorable” arguments that alcoholics may be treated as lacking in good character because they lack the motivation to overcome their condition, and that they may be treated differently than persons with other illnesses because they are more likely to harm others than themselves.

Judge Miranda Du of the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, sitting by designation, concurred in the opinion.

Judge Richard Clifton argued in dissent that the majority had created an equal protection argument that was never briefed by the parties. The only reason the statute did not pass the “low bar” required by rational basis review, he said, was that “the majority relies upon a false factual dichotomy—that diagnosis of the condition of chronic alcoholism as ‘medical’ means that there can be no element of drunkenness that is subject to free will or susceptible to a moral evaluation.”

He added:

“Ledezma himself puts the lie to the majority’s assumed premise, because despite his alcoholism, and to his credit, the record in this case tells us that he ultimately overcame that condition and stopped drinking.”

The case is Ledezma-Cosino v. Lynch, 12-73289.


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