Francis (plaintiff), a ten-year lawful permanent resident of the United States, was convicted of marijuana possession. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) (defendant) began deportation proceedings on the basis of Francis’ conviction. Francis applied for relief under Section 212(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. Under Section 212(c), a resident alien could avoid deportation in the discretion of the Attorney General, but only if that alien had voluntarily left the United States and then returned to a domicile in the United States where the alien had lived for at least seven years. Francis petitioned the Board of Immigration Appeals for relief, but was denied because he had never left the United States, as was required by the statute. The Board determined that Section 212(c) was inapplicable to a person who had never left the country. Francis appealed, on the grounds that the statute, as applied, violated the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws.