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U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Case Litigated by the Center for New Americans

JULY 7, 2014—On June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to Mellouli v. Holder, meaning the case—brought by the Law School's Center for New Americans (CNA), in collaboration with two of its organizational partners, the Minneapolis law firm Faegre Baker Daniels and the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota (ILCM)—will be heard by the court in its 2014-15 session. The court accepts for full plenary review only about 1% of the cases it is asked to hear.

The case involves a man named Moones Mellouli, a lawful permanent U.S. resident and former professor of mathematics, who was deported subsequent to a misdemeanor conviction in Kansas for possession of drug paraphernalia. The paraphernalia in question was an ordinary sock, used in connection with an unspecified substance controlled by the state of Kansas. Mellouli received no jail time for the conviction but was taken into custody by immigration officials and removed from the United States—without the government having to show that the substance was one referred to in the immigration law used to deport him.

That law provides one of the most common grounds used to deport noncitizens—conviction on a drug-related charge—but federal courts disagree over its enforcement. The law refers to a specific list of substances that are controlled by the federal government and allows immigration agencies to deport a person who is convicted of violating a state law relating to that list. Some courts, however, have given greater latitude to immigration authorities. In Mellouli's case, the conviction records the government used to argue for his deportation did not show what substance was involved. The Supreme Court will now decide whether the government, in order to deport a noncitizen convicted on a paraphernalia charge, must prove that a state conviction involved a controlled substance on the federal list. The decision will directly affect Mellouli and thousands of others in similar circumstances.

Professor Ben Casper (’97), director of the CNA, praises the collaborative effort that led to the Supreme Court's grant of certiorari, and credits CNA teaching fellow Kate Evans with leading that effort. "The Center for New Americans," said Evans, "has been able to call upon the talents, expertise, and resources of pro bono attorneys at Faegre Baker Daniels, leading immigration advocates from across the country, our nonprofit partners at the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, and an extremely dedicated student attorney, Julia Decker (’14). Without this kind of collaboration, we could not have gotten the Supreme Court to step in and look at the unjust result in Mr. Mellouli's case."

Dianne Heins (’73), pro bono counsel at Faegre Baker Daniels and leader of the firm's pro bono team, said, "Our firm is honored to partner with the CNA and the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota on the Mellouli case. Within the national pro bono community, Minnesota has a well-deserved reputation for its collaborative approach to addressing the pressing legal needs of low-income and vulnerable clients. The CNA is an outstanding example of an organization effectively leveraging collaboration to advance its institutional mission—in this case, to drive systemic improvements in immigration law and policy, and to increase access to legal representation in the immigrant community."

"I truly feel this case is just the beginning of the improvements to our judicial system that we should all expect from the Center for New Americans," said John Keller, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota. "ILCM is proud of its founding role in helping to create the CNA—a full-fledged, multifaceted law resource dedicated to ensuring that new Americans like Moones Mellouli are guaranteed due process. I could not have been happier or more reassured in our judicial system—or in the decision to build the CNA—than I was on the day I heard Mr. Mellouli was going to the Supreme Court."

Center for New Americans staff

Center for New Americans staff from left to right: Nancy Cook, Steve Meili, Ben Casper, Kate Evans, Linus Chan, Meghan Heesch, and Kjerstin Sanden