Seventh Circuit Week in Review, Part II: Piling on the Mandatory Minimums

In addition to the two cases covered in my prior post, the Seventh Circuit had four new sentencing opinions last week.  Only one warrants any extended discussion.  And that case, United States v. Easter (Nos. 07-2433, 2435, 3118, 3203, 3540 & 3628), actually presented several different issues raised by multiple defendants.

In Easter, several codefendants appealed their sentences for various drug trafficking convictions.  One, McKay, challenged the application of a mandatory minimum sentence to him based on the quantity of drugs involved in his offense.  The ten-year minimum was applied to McKay because he and his coconspirators were responsible for at least 50 grams of crack or one kilogram of heroin (the actual basis was unclear).  McKay’s appeal centered on the fact that, for purposes of calculating his sentence under the federal sentencing guidelines, the district court found him responsible for only 960 grams of heroin and 45-75 grams of crack.  However, the Seventh Circuit (in a per curiam decision) noted that the guidelines do not hold defendants responsible for as much of the conduct of their coconspirators as do the mandatory minimum statutes.  (For an earlier post on this topic, see here.)  Considering the full set of drug sales foreseeably perpetrated by McKay’s coconspirators, the district court could permissibly reach the quantity thresholds for the ten-year prison sentence.

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Canada Orders U.S. Army Deserter to Return to the United States

Private First Class Kimberly Rivera had been seeking leave to remain in Canada “on humanitarian and compassionate grounds” to avoid prosecution for deserting her post in the U.S. Army.  Her claim, like the claims of other U.S. soldiers seeking to avoid further duty in the Iraq War in Canada, has been rejected, and, unless that decision is reversed, she is supposed to return to the U.S. by January 27th.

I was a bit startled the first time I heard about U.S. soldiers seeking refugee status in other countries to avoid serving, or continuing their service, in the Iraq War.  There have been a number of such cases in Canada, and at least one in Germany.  (And I should note before continuing that I’m not sure that “humanitarian and compassionate grounds” are quite the same as asylum; still, the remainder of this post focuses on these soldiers’ ability to establish asylum.)

Under U.S. law, the basic definition of a “refugee” is someone who “is outside any country of such person’s nationality . . . and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion,” and Canada’s definition is similar.  Generally speaking, as students in my refugee law seminar learn, volunteer soldiers who desert their posts do not qualify as “refugees” under this definition.

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Should Immigration Service Employees Be “Looking for a Way to Approve” Petitions and Applications?

The answer is a resounding yes, according to this refreshingly outdated 1980 memo from INS Regional Director Durward E. Powell, Jr., regarding “Dispensing of Information and Adjudications Decision Making.”   

Powell admonishes employees that they should not consider themselves “guardians of the treasury of information on Immigration benefits, whose function is to dispense reluctantly that narrow portion of the treasury which relates to a specific inquiry.  Rather, all of us are, or should be, dispensers of total information, tailored to the entirety of each applicant’s situation. Tell them freely and openly not only what they are not eligible for but what they may be eligible for.”  

What an efficient and productive attitude for any agency employee toward her work. Some of the immigration agency employees I have encountered did seem to take this helpful stance, but others did not.  In fact, the same could be said about my encounters with DMV employees.

What are your thoughts? 

Thanks to Benders Immigration Bulletin Daily for the delightful link.

(Edit at 10:42 a.m.) As indicated in the comments below, Benders found this memo on the Nation of Immigrators blog.  The post, “New Year Resolutions for Immigration Officials,” is thoughtful and probably would interest anyone who is interested enough to be reading what I’ve written here.

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