People without American citizenship, many of them with strong family ties, are being cast out of the United States over minor drug convictions. A new report published by Human Rights Watch indicates that the Land of the Free has been imprisoning and deporting lawful permanent residents in the same manner in which they handle undocumented immigrants—all because of petty drug offenses.
This in-depth account entitled “A Price Too High: U.S. Families Torn Apart By Deportations for Drug Offenses” tells the tale of how the federal government has been using decades-old possession charges, most of which never resulted in any prison time, to initiate deportation proceedings against people who may have lived in this country all of their lives but never obtained citizen status.
According to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, as well as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, there was a 43 percent increase in the deportation of non-citizens with convictions for dope possession between 2007 and 2012.
Interestingly, the U.S. government appears resolved on shipping these people out for crimes pertaining to every drug with the exception of small amounts of marijuana. Those who have been prosecuted for possession of less than 30 grams of weed are allowed to remain in the country. All other drugs, however, can result in a total banishment from the U.S.
“Even as many U.S. states are legalizing and decriminalizing some drugs, or reducing sentences for drug offenses, federal immigration policy too often imposes exile for the same offenses,” Grace Meng, senior U.S. researcher at Human Rights Watch and the author of the report, said in a statement. “Americans believe the punishment should fit the crime, but that is not what is happening to immigrants convicted of what are often relatively minor drug offenses.”
While the federal government has recently started to budge when it comes to reforming the nation’s mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines and other issues that pertain to the domestic drug war, there has been nothing done to change the current immigration policy. The report finds that this often results in binding detentions and the deportation of tens of thousands of immigrants, including those who have been in this country since childhood, simply because they made a youthful mistake.
Even those who have had their records expunged are often deported.
The report reveals a number of cases in which drug offenders are either currently facing deportation or, in some instances, have already been removed, all because of offenses ranging from the cultivation of marijuana to possession charges they received as teenagers. Unfortunately, none of these individuals can even lean on the mercy of a sympathetic judge because the immigration laws that mandate deportation for drug offenses are absolute.
It is for this reason that Congress should take the appropriate measure to ensure immigrants with criminal drug convictions are not subjected to a “one-size-fits-all-policy,” according to the report.
“The Obama administration has explicitly recognized the many failures of the U.S. criminal justice system, and particularly its disproportionate impact on minority and poor communities,” Meng said. “But by designating all immigrants convicted in that system as dangerous criminals, the administration is perpetuating these failures and devastating many of the same communities.”
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