California families living without the guaranteed protection of U.S. citizenship may no longer have to worry about succumbing to the unsung perils of the minor drug convictions.
Earlier this week, the California Assembly voted 21 to 15 in approval of a bill that would prevent green card holders from facing harsh penalties, such as deportation or a loss of housing and educational benefits due to a conviction for a petty drug crime. The bill, which was already approved last month by the Senate, must now go before Governor Jerry Brown for his signature.
“Deportation for minor drug law violations destroys California families,” said Armando Gudiño, Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement. “Legislators are thankfully taking a more responsible approach to incarceration and deportation.”
A report published over the summer by Human Rights Watch indicates that all across the United States families are being ripped apart over minor drug violations; some of these noncitizen offenders are even being removed from the country indefinitely over a petty dope charge that would not even warrant a jail term for the average American citizen today.
In California, where the population consists of a large immigrant presence, these “legal permanent residents,” many of which have children that are U.S. citizens, have been stripped of the green card privileges because at some point throughout their journey in this country they may have gotten busted for a bag of weed.
“Many U.S. states are reforming drug policy by legalizing, decriminalizing, and reducing long sentences for drug offenders,” said Grace Meng, senior U.S. researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But millions of immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for decades are exiled and separated from their families for low-level drug offenses. California can change that.”
If Governor Brown signs Assembly Bill 1351 into law, which is expected, it could certainly lay the groundwork for a new nationwide standard on the issue… and not a moment too soon. The latest statistics show that the federal government has been cracking down on “potential citizens” with drug convictions over the past several years, with a 43 percent increase in deportations between 2007 and 2012. The most serious offense out of all of these cases was simple drug possession.
“California is setting a new model for the nation with this landmark legislation that ensures immigrant families are not separated for petty drug law violations,” said Gudiño.
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