Ex-U.S. citizens cannot be deported because of a drug conviction, according to the 3rd Circuit.

September 1, 2021

A US appeals court ruled on Tuesday that an Indian man cannot be deported because of a drug conviction that occurred before he was stripped of his US citizenship for making false claims on his naturalization application.

Baljinder Singh was not a “alien” eligible for deportation under the Immigration and Nationality Act while still a U.S. citizen, according to a three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and his fraudulent application did not nullify his citizenship retroactively.

Singh’s appeal for judicial review of a Board of Immigration Appeals ruling ordering his deportation was granted, and the board was ordered to revisit his case.

Singh’s lawyer, John Leschak of Leschak & Associates, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did the United States Department of Justice.

Singh landed from India without documents at San Francisco International Airport in 1991, according to the verdict. He was released on bond after telling officials his identity was Davinder Singh.

According to the judgement, Singh failed to appear for a hearing in 1992 and was ordered deported. He subsequently applied for asylum under the name Baljinder Singh and married a U.S. citizen while his case was pending.

Singh fraudulently claimed in an application for lawful permanent resident status that he had entered the United States without inspection in 1991 and neglected to reveal that he had used a different name.

According to the ruling, he was granted lawful resident status in 1998 and became a naturalized citizen in 2006. In 2018, the authorities found his lies and cancelled his naturalization.
Meanwhile, Singh pleaded guilty in 2011 to conspiring to distribute heroin, MDMA, and marijuana.

The Department of Homeland Security charged Singh with removability after he lost his citizenship due to his narcotics conviction. Any alien convicted of an aggravated felony is subject to deportation, according to the INA, which defines “alien” as “any individual who is not a citizen or national of the United States.”

Singh was ordered deported by an immigration judge, and the Board of Immigration Appeals upheld the decision last year.

Singh filed an appeal, and the 3rd Circuit ruled on Tuesday that he was not a “alien” at the time of his conviction in 2011, and thus could not be deported for his drug-related felony.
The court agreed with Singh that his case was similar to Costello v. INS, in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in 1964 that a provision identical to the INA did not apply to a naturalized citizen who was convicted of a crime.

The government said that Costello did not apply because it concerned a legal remedy known as “court advice against deportation,” which Congress has since repealed and which Singh never had access to. The court, on the other hand, was not convinced.

Circuit Judge Kent Jordan wrote, “The government’s position needs considerable suspension of disbelief.” “After all, the statute is specifically directed at ‘aliens,’ and a citizen is not an alien by definition.”

Circuit Judge Paul Matey of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and U.S. District Judge Marilyn Horan of the Western District of Pennsylvania sat on the panel by designation.

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