Immigrant awaits Supreme Court ruling on drug law

March 31, 2010 3:35:17 PM PDT
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday heard arguments in a highly controversial case that could decide the fate of thousands of immigrants. At the heart of the case - should an immigrant be deported for a minor drug-related conviction? One local man's life will be greatly impacted by the ruling.

"It weighs on you, you know," Jerry Lemaine said. "You try to block it out. You try to move on."

But Lemaine finds it hard to ignore the fact that he could be deported to Haiti at any time. It's a country he hasn't actually lived in since he was 3 years old.

The nightmare began when the 28-year-old was caught with a single marijuana cigarette three years ago. But instead of simply paying a $100 fine after a negotiated guilty plea, immigration officials took him into custody.

"You have no way to communicate with your family," he said. "They just come, they snatch you up, shackle you, and put you in a van."

Lemaine was shipped to Texas, where he spent nearly 3 years in detention as deportation proceedings began. Even though he's a legal permanent resident and had a prior minor teenage drug arrest that had been dismissed, immigration law in Texas still regarded him as felon.

"I know I messed up," he said. "I made some mistakes in my life and I own up to that. I take full responsibility, but I just feel like growing up in America, you make a mistake or if it's two, you have a second chance."

Lemaine's attorneys were finally able to have him freed while his appeal is pending. They say his case points out the problems created when the same immigration laws are interpreted differently around the country.

As Lemaine waits for word on his case, he worries about what will happened to his younger sister, who is learning disabled, and his mother, who depends on him, if he's forced to leave the country.

"I try to hold it together and be as strong as I can," he said.