The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that chronic alcoholism cannot be a factor tied to the “moral character” of aliens the government seeks to deport — striking down a long-held facet of immigration law.
In a decision handed down Thursday, the court in a 2-1 ruling determined that Salomon Ledezma-Cosino, a Mexican citizen who entered the U.S. illegal in 1997, should not be barred from canceling his removal order because he is a “habitual drunkard.”
Under current law, aliens may seek to have their removal order cancelled by the attorney general, if the alien has “good moral character.” With “good moral character” difficult to ascertain, the law instead defines the qualities that imply a lack of “good moral character” and prohibits those aliens from eligibility for deportation relief. Included in that list of qualities that can cause and aliens to be denied relief is “habitual drunkard.”
Despite Ledezma-Cosino’s past DUI conviction, the court found that “habitual drunkards” have a medical condition, which should not be reflective of an individual’s moral character.
“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, and that § 1101(f)(1) is therefore unconstitutional,” the majority opinion, penned by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, reads.
“Like any other medical condition, alcoholism is undeserving of punishment and should not be held morally offensive,” he added.
In a dissenting decision, Judge Richard R. Clifton criticized the majority’s ruling, arguing that Congress has the power to exclude any alien for any reason — “This is particularly true where the identified group threatens or even simply burdens institutions of public health and safety,” he wrote, noting that immigration law regularly excludes a broad range of aliens with medical conditions.
“The majority prefers to focus on Congress’s manner of acting, i.e., its use of a moral character framework. But whether Congress chose the best method to do something that it undoubtedly has the authority to do is the stuff of narrow tailoring. In short, the majority opinion has applied heightened scrutiny by stealth, and in so doing, has usurped Congressional authority in an area where that authority is at its apex,” he wrote.