The BIA Issues an Important Decision on Florida’s Sale of a Controlled Substance Statute

On August 15, 2014, the Board of Immigration Appeals issued a published decision in Matter of L-G-H-, 26 I&N Dec. 365 (BIA 2014), regarding the immigration consequences of a conviction for violating Florida Statute § 893.13(1)(a)(1) (sale, manufacture, delivery or possession with intent to sell, manufacture or deliver, a controlled substance). With this decision, the Board has made it clear that unless a non-citizen is convicted of actual sale or possession with the intent to sell a controlled substance, a conviction under this statute will not be an aggravated felony for immigration purposes. A conviction for manufacturing, delivering or possession of a controlled substance with the intent to manufacture or deliver, will still be a controlled substance offense, and will make a non-citizen both inadmissible and deportable, but it will not be an aggravated felony.
This is an important distinction because if a non-citizen is convicted of an aggravated felony, they are not eligible for multiple forms of Immigration relief. These forms of relief include: asylum, cancellation of removal for either permanent and non-permanent residents, voluntary departure, and possibly adjustment of status. A conviction for an aggravated felony will also make you subject to mandatory detention if you are detained by immigration, you will not be eligible for to become a citizen if you are a lawful permanent resident. If you are convicted of an aggravated felony and are not a lawful permanent resident, then you may be subject to administrative removal. Administrative removal is what is referred to as a “no-process” removal where officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and not an immigration judge, decide whether you should be removed from the U.S.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued a published decision in 2013 regarding this same statute. In Donawa v. U.S. Att’y Gen., 735 F.3d 1275 (11th Cir. 2013), the Court stated that there are two ways that the government can prove that a conviction is an aggravated felony under INA § 101(a)(43)(B). The first method is through the drug trafficking crime clause and the second is through the “illicit trafficking” clause. In Donawa, the Court decided that Fla. Stat. § 893, which govern controlled substances, lacks a certain element that makes it impossible to prove that convictions under this statute were aggravated felonies under the drug trafficking crime clause. The Court left open the possibility that a conviction under Fla. Stat. § 893 could still contain a trafficking element and therefore me an “illicit trafficking” offense, and an aggravated felony, pursuant to Matter of Sancez-Cornejo, 25 I&N Dec. 273 (BIA 2010).
The decision in Matter of L-G-H- settles the question left open by the Court in Donawa. The Board has determined that if ICE can prove that a non-citizen was convicted for sale or possession with the intent to sell, a controlled substance, then they are an aggravated felon under INA § 101(a)(43)(B).
The experienced immigration and criminal defense attorneys at Lasnetski Gihon Law can protect your immigration rights in criminal court. If you are a non-citizen who is being prosecuted for a drug offense in Florida, we can help you to protect your immigration status and limit the negative immigration consequences of your criminal prosecution. Call us today.

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