Ryan Wagner

Document Type

Supreme Court Commentaries

Publication Date




Subject Category

Constitutional Law | Law


The United States Courts of Appeals split over whether state felony drug convictions, which were punishable only as misdemeanors under federal law, constituted aggravated felonies under immigration law. The controversy was based upon the interpretation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”). Under the Act, an alien who is convicted of an “aggravated felony” is automatically deported from the United States. According to the INA, an aggravated felony includes “illicit trafficking in a controlled substance . . . including a drug trafficking crime (as defined in section 924(c) of Title 18).” Although the INA does not define “illicit trafficking,” Title 18 of the U.S. Code defines “the term ‘drug trafficking crime’ [as] any felony punishable under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. [§] 801 et seq.).” While the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) is a federal statute, the INA’s definition of aggravated felonies expressly includes crimes “whether in violation of state and federal law.” Since the INA was intended to include state convictions, the Court needed to clarify whether an “aggravated felony” under the INA included a felony conviction by state court that under federal law would be classified only as a misdemeanor.