Luis Quintana Alvarez is an American. Of the 19 years he’s spent on earth, more than 18 of those have been in the United States, where he’s said the Pledge of Allegiance every day since kindergarten, after his family brought him and his sisters to live here when he was 11-months-old. The last five months, Alvarez has spent in jail, the pre-penalty for a gram of marijuana that police discovered on him a year ago. For this transgression, Alvarez is slated to be deported to Mexico, as the Des Moines Register reported.
What? Why? How?
The answer: MAGA.
Alvarez is yet another example of how, under the Trump administration, federal authorities are happily using the country’s warped marijuana laws—which are almost as abusive as our immigration policies—as a convenient tool to make peoples’ lives miserable.
— Rekha Basu (@rekhabasu) September 11, 2017
Iowa is in the United States’ still-vast no-go zone for marijuana, a world where the drug war is still on—possession of cannabis a misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail—but it’s not the worst place to be caught with pot.
This was on Alvarez’s mind when he and his cousin, on their way to Ames, a college town not far from Des Moines where Alvarez’s sister and twin brother are students at Iowa State, were stopped by police for speeding.
A search of the car turned up the aforementioned gram. A gram, in case police are reading this, is a minuscule amount, barely enough to make a drive interesting.
As USA Today reported, Alvarez told police that the pot was his—a calculated gamble meant to protect his cousin from getting thrown out of school.
Here is the key mistake: Alvarez also has Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status.
Iowa cops gave him a year of probation for possession—itself an absurd penalty for holding a scrap of weed—but the arrest triggered federal immigration authorities, who revoked his probation, threw him in jail and put him on the list to be deported.
Under federal immigration law, a drug-related conviction does not necessarily disqualify someone for DACA status, the “immigration leniency” program offered to the children of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as young children.
A temporary stopgap measure meant to protect Americans like Quintana from deportation—and, as a products of American schools and American culture and American values, he is very American, no matter what a piece of paper may say—DACA is set to expire in six months unless Congress comes up with a permanent solution.
For now, a drug conviction does not necessarily immediately trigger deportation.
In “sanctuary cities” like Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other nice places to live, someone may go through the court system and pay their debt to society without involving the feds.
However, if someone eligible for DACA status is guilty of a “significant misdemeanor,” they may lose that status and be deported.
“Significant misdemeanors” include weapons charges, “sexual abuse or exploitation” and “drug distribution or trafficking.” According to the National Immigration Project, “misdemeanor drug possession” is enough to “prevent the person from becoming a lawful permanent resident.” At the same time, anyone caught with 30 grams or less of marijuana can have the crime waived and can stay in the country.
Reasonable! Even if Iowa cops felt (or were compelled) to involve the feds. And yet Alvarez is still on his way out. Despite finding him “sincere, responsive and forthright,” an immigration judge declined to grant the waiver.
The judge also rejected an appeal for asylum based on threats to his safety.
Last fall, another Mexican national was deported from Des Moines “and shot to death by a cartel,” according to USA Today. His case is on appeal, but save intervention or very quick reform of marijuana or immigration policy, it’s not looking good.
“I really don’t understand how they could want to deport me, who has been here all his life, over a small amount of marijuana,” he told columnist Rekha Basu. If kicked out of the U.S., “my life would just be over. I would feel like a foreigner because I’ve been here in America all my life.”
Unfortunately, this case isn’t really about Alvarez or how American he and his family are. Deporting him would accomplish nothing aside from causing his family pain and turning his life wholly upside down.
It’s not really even about marijuana, or immigration.
If it were, there’d be some modification to marijuana laws, or to the insane immigration laws that lead people to risk death and then prosecution in order to come here.
This is yet another demonstration of pure meanness.
Ostensibly, this is the kind of scene that might drum up votes and support from the MAGA crowd. This is why, for weed, an American teen can spend almost as much time in jail as rapists and then be removed from the country.
This is what you voted for, Iowa. MAGA.