The Supreme Court on Tuesday increased the chances for invaders to remain in the United States even if they have been convicted of drug possession under state laws.
The justices' 8-1 ruling came on the same day the court heard arguments in another immigrant case in which a man in California is trying to avoid deportation after pleading guilty to a theft charge.
The ruling came in the case of Jose Antonio Lopez, a 16-year permanent U.S. resident who pleaded guilty in a South Dakota court to telling someone where to obtain cocaine.
The crime, aiding and abetting possession of drugs, is a felony in South Dakota. Most first-time simple possession offenses are punished as misdemeanors under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Conduct that is a felony under state law but a misdemeanor under the Controlled Substances Act is not an aggravated felony for purposes of immigration, Justice David Souter wrote.
Lopez was deported to Mexico in January 2006, but will come back to the United States, where an immigration judge will decide whether he may remain in the country.
Lopez, who had operated a grocery store in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, still could face deportation, but an immigration judge would have discretion to allow him to remain in the United States.