Ten years later, fulfilling the promise of Padilla v. Kentucky

by Manny Vargas

As COVID-19 hit New York and the nation in March, an important immigrant rights’ anniversary date passed largely unnoticed – the tenth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s March 31, 2010 decision in Padilla v. Kentucky. For immigrants, Padilla represented a groundbreaking recognition by the highest Court in the country that for noncitizens, the constitutional right to counsel must include advice on the immigration consequences of a criminal case.

When the Padilla decision was announced, I was fortunate to be at the Supreme Court, observing arguments in another case. I literally trembled as the Court began announcing the decision, fearing a negative result and setback for our efforts. Then, as I listened and it became apparent that the Court was ruling in favor of Mr. Padilla, my heart leapt in joy and I could not wait for the argument in the other case to finish so that I could read the Court’s decision in its entirety. For me personally, the Padilla decision was incredibly satisfying, representing a culmination of IDP’s years-long fight to ensure that immigrants caught up in the criminal legal system were given a fighting chance.

In the ten years since the Padilla decision, IDP has sought to maximize the promise of the Padilla decision. IDP has put together legal resources for immigrants facing criminal charges and their lawyers. IDP has trained and provided backup support to defense lawyers in New York and around the country on the detention and deportation and other immigration risks potentially faced by their immigrant clients and on strategies to avoid these risks. And IDP has directly advised thousands of immigrants themselves, and their advocates, on how to avoid these risks, whether in current criminal proceedings, in post-conviction proceedings, or in removal defense or detention challenge proceedings.

The Supreme Court stated in its Padilla decision: “These [recent] changes to our immigration law have dramatically raised the stakes of a noncitizen’s criminal conviction. The importance of accurate legal advice for noncitizens accused of crimes has never been more important.” 

Indeed, with the crises currently facing this country (covid, economic, and political), keeping immigrants together with their families and communities is more important than ever. As we enter the second decade following the Padilla decision’s call for true justice for immigrants facing the risk of detention and deportation, IDP remains committed, with your support, to continuing to defend and promote the promise and spirit of the Padilla decision.

To continue reading Manny’s reflections on Padilla, please see here. To read additional posts from Alina Das, Nancy Morawetz, Norman Reimer, and Labe Richman on the legacy of Padilla, please see here.