SAN FRANCISCO – A federal appeals court has ordered a rehearing for a case that involves an undocumented immigrant who was classified as lacking “good moral character” because he was considered a “habitual drunkard.”
A deportation issue was given to Salomon Ledezma-Cosino around 2007. His attempt to have it canceled was denied by the Board of Immigration Appeals as he was considered to be lacking good moral character due to his drinking habits.
The classification involves a 50-year-old statute that states: “No person shall be regarded as, or found to be, a person of good moral character who, during the period for which good moral character is required to be established, is or was – (1) a habitual drunkard.”
The lawyer for plaintiff Ledezma-Cosino has argued that alcoholism is a medical condition and not reflective of a person’s character.
"The issue is really whether alcoholism should be labeled as an issue regarding, or has a stigma involved with, good moral character. Alcoholism really is a disease and it is neither positive or negative in terms of morality,” attorney Nora Milner told the Northern California Record.
"It is a medical condition, therefore attaching a stigma to it or label to it that it reflects poor moral character, what it really does is adds to the individual the stigma that this individual is really a bad person."
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with Milner and found that to deny Ledezma-Cosino a cancellation of his deportation order was unconstitutional.
“There is no rational basis to classify people afflicted by chronic alcoholism as innately lacking good moral character,” a written statement of the court's decision stated.
However, the vote was 2-1, and dissenting Judge Richard Clifton wrote that “the majority opinion includes several false legal premises, and it relies upon the false factual dichotomy that the diagnosis of chronic alcoholism as ‘medical’ means there can be no element of drunkenness subject to free will or susceptible to a moral evaluation.”
Ledezma-Cosino arrived in the U.S. from his home country of Mexico in 1997. He has eight children, five of whom are U.S. citizens. He works in the construction industry. He has stayed in the U.S. “except for a few brief departures,” court documents stated.
Milner said the main reason he has been fighting deportation was because of his family in the United States.
"He has lived in the United States over 30 years. He has a wife and children here, a long-established work record. I mean, this is essentially the only home he has known for a good portion of his life. He has no family in Mexico and so this is his home,” she said.
Hi medical records indicate he has abused alcohol for about 10 years, “during which he drank an average of one liter of tequila each day,” court documents stated.
Doctors have diagnosed him with acute alcohol hepatitis, decompensated cirrhosis of the liver. He has one DUI conviction.
He was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2008. During hearings around this time he acknowledged the government had legal cause to remove him from the county. However, he requested a cancellation of removal.
He argued that the law was depriving him of due process and equal protection of the law.
The appeals court felt he had a point.
“The Government is wrong,” court documents stated. “Just as a statute targeting people who exhibit manic and depressive behavior would be, in effect, targeting people with bipolar disorder and just as a statute targeting people who exhibit delusional conduct over a long period of time would be, in effect, targeting individual with schizotypal personality disorder, a statute targeting people who habitually and excessively drink alcohol is, in effect, targeting individuals with chronic alcoholism.”
“Like any other medical condition, alcoholism is undeserving of punishment and should not be held morally offensive,” it stated. “We are well past the point where it is rational to link a person’s medical disability with his moral character.”
Milner said the case had garnered a lot of confusion.
"This case does not stand for the proposition that you can be an alcoholic and go out and commit a crime and therefore be excused from it. That is not what this case is about,” she explained. "If you commit a crime under the influence of alcohol you are going to be subject to prosecution for that crime."
She said that the case was not about her client’s DUI but was about the questioning of his moral character.
"In this particular situation, Ledezma-Cosino was denied not because of one DUI. He was denied because he is considered to be a person lacking good moral character."