IDP and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild have prepared a Mellouli practice advisory regarding the Mellouli decision. On June 1, the U.S. Supreme Court strongly reaffirmed general applicability of the traditional strict categorical approach for determining removability in the immigration context. Mellouli v. Lynch, No. 13-1034, 2015 WL 2464047 (June 1, 2015). Specifically, the Court held that an individual convicted of a state drug paraphernalia offense is not deportable under the deportability ground for conviction of an offense “relating to” a controlled substance (as defined in federal law) where the government had not shown that the conviction related to a substance listed in the federal controlled substance schedules.
The Court’s decision thus overrules the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) decision in Matter of Martinez-Espinoza, 25 I&N Dec. 118 (BIA 2009) (finding that there was no need to show the specific controlled substance involved in a paraphernalia conviction because paraphernalia statutes relate to “the drug trade in general”). In addition, the Court’s opinion offers support for fighting removal based on any drug conviction where the state statute at the time of conviction covered any substance(s) not listed in the federal schedules. More broadly, the Court’s decision represents a strong reaffirmation of the general applicability of the categorical approach for determining removability based on a past criminal conviction, and provides support for a strict version of the approach.