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NYC Deportation Case Illustrates Importance of Court’s Imminent Ruling in <em>Padilla</em>
This week, the New York Times featured the story of Quig Hong Wu, a young man who, at the age of 5, legally immigrated to the U.S. with his family from China – and is now facing deportation. Wu’s case illustrates the importance of an upcoming Supreme Court ruling concerning the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel.
As the Times reveals, when Mr. Wu was 15 he was arrested and pled guilty to a string of robberies, before being sentenced to 3-9 years in a reformatory. The New York judge who heard his case in 1996, now-retired Judge Michael Corriero, told Mr. Wu that if he turned his life around, he would stand behind him.
Mr. Wu responded by doing just that – becoming a “model inmate,” staying out of trouble, working to support his mother and climbing the ranks of a national Internet technology company to become its vice president. Nearly 15 years after his guilty plea, feeling he had fully reformed, Mr. Wu applied for citizenship, and his criminal record came to the attention of immigration authorities. Mr. Wu did not realize until after he submitted his application that having pled guilty to a crime as a teenager made him ineligible for citizenship, and automatically deportable.
Now, true to his word, Judge Corriero is joining Mr. Wu’s family in trying to keep him from being unfairly deported:
To Judge Corriero, the case shows the long reach of laws that force judges to impose indelible convictions on adolescents — often, as in Mr. Wu’s case, based on guilty pleas made without knowledge of the dire immigration consequences to follow.
Efforts to free Mr. Wu, championed by the New York chapter of OCA, an Asian-American civil rights organization, now include a motion to vacate his 1996 guilty plea as legally defective because his lawyer wrongly advised him that it would not affect his green card.
Mr. Wu’s case is similar to one currently being deliberated by the U.S. Supreme Court. Jose Padilla, a legal immigrant of Honduran birth and a Vietnam veteran who had resided in the U.S. for nearly 50 years, was arrested and charged with a non-violent drug offense in Kentucky. On the advice of his lawyer, who told him he had “nothing to worry about” immigration-wise because he had been in the country so long, Mr. Padilla pled guilty to the charges – a move that, it turned out, results in automatic deportation.
Mr. Padilla’s case has now reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where his attorneys argue that the Kentucky Supreme Court’s refusal to allow him to vacate his guilty plea violated his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel – a right guaranteed to all persons facing criminal prosecutions, and applied to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. CAC filed an amicus brief in this case in support of Mr. Padilla, revealing how the Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment sought to guarantee procedural fairness, including assistance of counsel, to all persons facing criminal charges in state courts, regardless of their citizenship status.
Mr. Wu’s case offers yet another illustration of just how important the Court’s ruling will be, not just for legal immigrants, but for all individuals facing criminal charges. As the justices themselves noted during the Oct. 13 oral argument, defendants face a range of “collateral consequences” – from deportation, to loss of custody of children – for pleading guilty to criminal charges, making it all the more important that they have access to effective counsel when making a guilty plea.
A decision is expected in Padilla v. Kentucky any day. Let’s hope the Court gets the text and history of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments right by upholding a robust right to effective assistance of counsel for all individuals facing deprivation of their freedom.