In a speech Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly announced that the Trump Administration would use marijuana possession as a reason for deporting immigrants. “ICE will continue to use marijuana possession, distribution and convictions as essential elements as they build their deportation removal apprehension packages for targeted operations against illegal aliens living in the United States,” he said.
Marijuana is currently illegal under federal law, but eight states have legalized it for adult use and 28 states have medical marijuana laws. Individuals following state law would be exposed to deportation. “Whether it’s the construction of a wall or deporting individuals for marijuana possession, the Trump Administration has signaled its desire to use the drug war as a tool to persecute immigrants,” said Jerónimo Saldaña, Policy Manager at Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “It’s outrageous to think that anyone following medical advice under state law would be subject to deportation.”
The Trump Administration has nefariously used the drug war as a way of targeting immigrants, and yesterday’s statement is merely another example of this tactic. Uniquely though, the desire to deport people for marijuana use demonstrates the conflict between state and federal law on marijuana, and the necessity to end federal prohibition. “We hear talk about ending the state-vs-federal conflict on marijuana laws to fix the banking and tax problem,” said Saldaña, “but the Kelly statement shows that there are far more dramatic consequences for our nation’s disastrous drug policy.”
Under the Obama Administration, simple drug possession was not a priority offense. Taken alongside recent statements and actions by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, it is clear that the drug war is being escalated. Recently, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) reintroduced the “Veteran Visa and Protection Act,” which would establish a visa program allowing certain deported veterans to re-enter the U.S. as lawful permanent residents. They will also be eligible for the existing naturalization process for military service and will regain access to their military and veteran benefits. The bill will also stop the deportation of eligible veterans who are currently in removal proceedings.
According to the Immigrant Defense Project, one out of every four “criminal removals” – over 250,000 deportations – involved a person whose most serious conviction was for a drug offense. Last year, Human Rights Watch released a report on drug deportations, noting that, “Thousands of families in the United States have been torn apart in recent years by detention and deportation for drug offenses.” And last week, the ACLU released a report noting that veterans who have served the country as lawful permanent residents have been “subject to draconian immigration laws that reclassified many minor offenses as deportable crimes, and were effectively banished from this country.”
There have also been moves at the state level to prevent law enforcement from documenting misdemeanor drug crimes and therefore exposing immigrants to harsh deportation proceedings. The New York State Assembly passed legislation that creates a process for sealing the criminal records of people arrested for simple possession of marijuana in public view, providing a measure of protection for immigrants by making it difficult or impossible for immigration authorities to meet their legal burden of proof for a judge to find a lawful permanent resident deportable. Often these arrests were the result of stop and frisk encounters targeting young people of color, and immigrant New Yorkers with minor records have already been deported by ICE under the Trump Administration’s crackdown. The California State Assembly is currently considering a bill that protects Californians who are operating lawfully under state marijuana laws by providing that, absent a court order, local and state agencies, including regulators and law enforcement, shall not use agency resources to assist in any federal enforcement against state authorized medical cannabis or commercial or noncommercial marijuana activity.
“It is unconscionable that immigrants are being targeted and deported for simple possession of marijuana – and it’s especially egregious in states that have a legal framework for marijuana. States and municipalities must stand against this type of fearmongering and protect their residents,” said Melissa Moore, Deputy Director for the Drug Policy Alliance’s New York office.