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Immigration and Drug Law: A Dangerous Intersection

If one had to identify two areas of jurisprudence where Constitution often doesn’t seem to apply, the first one would probably be anything related to controlled substances. And, the second? Immigration Law.

For example, children who are brought here by their parents, illegally, across the border, cannot adjust their status to that of a legal one, even if they finished school and college here, are married to U.S. citizens and have U.S. citizen children. Same goes for persons who might have committed a crime in the past, if the government believes they committed an aggravated felony – and, for the purposes of immigration law, even some misdemeanors can be considered aggravated felonies. Illegal immigrants who get detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement are often moved across the country to various detention facilities (New York detainees are often moved to Texas, for example), which makes their defense and the proper adjudication of their cases very difficult. Many of those facilities are no better than jails; in fact, some of them are jails, rented by the federal government from the States. The procedural due process for immigration detainees gets written entirely by the federal authorities; the Courts accept that immigrants’ rights are severely limited compared to those of U.S. citizens.

Predictably, when these two areas overlap, the results are often shockingly egregious. Roughly put, pretty much every drug offense is sufficient to permanently bar getting a green card or obtaining U.S. citizenship. (I have to mention, though, that there is a narrow exception to the rule: if it’s just an offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana, one could ask the government to make an exception and let him or her off the hook.)

Below, I try to summarize the current immigration law, as it pertains to people with drug convictions:

  • Any controlled substance conviction is a ground for deportation. (That also applies to green card holders. Many people don’t realize that green card holders can, and often are, easily deported for many crimes, which, under state law, often carry no jail time whatsoever.)
  • A conviction or an admitted commission of a controlled substance offense would pretty much bar a person from obtaining a green card, ever. Same goes for when the government has reason to believe an individual is a drug trafficker. In that case, a conviction isn't even necessary.
  • A conviction or an admission of a controlled substance offense makes a person ineligible for citizenship for 5 years.
  • Now, if it’s an aggravated felony conviction, then a person is permanently ineligible for citizenship. Since, (remember?) the list of offenses that the government considers aggravated felonies is very expansive, most drug offenses would fall under the category. An example would be any sale or an intent to sale offense or simple possession of more than 5 grams of crack. So, many people who had ever committed a drug offense in the past are permanently unable to obtain U.S. citizenship, no matter how long they had been living here.
  • As I mentioned above, these people, in addition to being unable to obtain their citizenship, would also face deportation – and, if the government considers their offense to be an aggravated felony, they could also face prison time, would never be able to enter the U.S. again and would have to remain in detention for the duration of their deportation proceedings, which often takes many months.
  • Furthermore, an aggravated felony would make a person ineligible for asylum; if the offense involves drug trafficking, that person would not be able to ask for relief even if there is a good chance that he or she would be killed or tortured in his home country, once deported.
So, if you are not a U.S. citizen and have been arrested for a controlled substance offense, please remember to consult an immigration lawyer in addition to the criminal defender. Our plea bargaining system often allows an easy way out by pleading to a lesser charge, something that often doesn’t carry any prison time – that tactic won’t work for those who are not U.S. citizens. I have been practicing immigration law for a while and I see many people who come to us (or call us from detention) looking for help, only to find that there is not much that can be done for them under the current legal framework. One should take great pains not to end up at the intersection of the Drug War and our clunky immigration system.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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civil infraction and green card process

Does anybody know what happens if you get a civil infraction for possession of marijuana while you are in the process of obtaining a green card?

I would think they will

I would think they will deport. My husband has two simple possessions and they have denied his case. You were lucky to get as far as getting a green card.

hello was your husband

hello was your husband deported  for his two possesion charges?

i am 21 years old and i have got two possessions of marugauana

and i have a wife and a baby on the way and im fearing for my life 


any advise or help?

i have a permanent residency and it expires in two years i have been here since i was 1 or 2

Appealing a criminal conviction and immigration status

My fiance is currently incarcerated for a felony drug charge in MD. This is a first offense. He has an appeal date set for November 2009. He will be released from a one year sentence in March 2009. An immigration detainer was issued and prevented a home detention option. He currently has a green card. What happens in a case when your criminal appeal date is after the time that you are detained by INS? Will/Can he be released on bond until his criminal appeal date?

Obtaining a visa to enter USA after admitting to Marijuana use

My husband was in the process of getting a green card when they preformed a drug test at the interview in Ciudad Juarez. Rather than be caught lying he admitted to marijuana for personal use. He was told to come back in 3 years. Supposedly it was normally 5 yrs but because he was honest they lowered it to 3yrs. He never went back and 8 years have passed and recently he applied for business visa and they told him no. What is the best way at this point for him to get a visa to enter the USA? Should he reapply for the green card? Or is it impossible?

Obtaining a Greencard after being convicted of drug sales

My husband sold 2.5 grams of marijuana to an undercover cop here in Florida. He was here on an OPT Visa from the Bahamas. He graduated, and was sentenced shortly after that to 2 years probation, drug classes, and 40 hours community service. They told him for his probation he would be eligible for early termination after a year of good behavior, so he should be getting off this July. His charges were "OTH.DRUG-SALE/MANUF/DELIV", but the judge said after he completed everything adjudication would be with held. His visa expires in October. We are now married, and we have a 1 month old baby. I'm terrified he's going to be deported. Do you think he has any chances of getting his greencard?

drug charge

My husband is awaiting a removal proceedings hearing. I want to know what are his chances in getting a waiver. He was charged with more than 1 gram but less than 4 grams of cocaine about 10 years ago, and just recently was picked up by ICE? He is a permanent resident has been since he was a child. Are his chances to stay in the states good?

greencard after fellony possession

i have benn working in us for 10 yrs with a work visa,I have been marryed for 6 yrs , she got a greencard 2 week a go .

i got cot last september with 2 plants of marjuana and i am getting charged of possession of mj from 3 ounces to 5 pounds in a school zone that is a fellony in texas.the charges are still pending

i am trying to  applay for my green card tru my wife , what is the chance of gettin regected or approved ????

Adel Georgia cop trying to deport my husband!!

Please someone help I really need answers. My husband and I have been together for two years and have two kids; we got married on July 26,2011. We were driving from Florida to Chicago and ended up getting pulled over in Adel, Georgia. My husband ended up getting arrested and charged with possession of cocaine about 9 grams or so they say and that's after he was detained  for three days. It makes no sense at all my car was searched and the dog never showed any signs that he/she detected drugs in the car. He is illegal and has been in America since he was 2 years old. He has worked, gone to school, and filed for his taxes. This is his first offense. What will happen to him? I am really desperate please anyone write back if you have answers. I am currently in Chicago trying to work, I just had my second child November 25,2011.

                                                                     Thank You 


he will be deported...butg dont worry if his mexican! i can pretty much guide him on how to ride it out in mexico. i leave in mty mexico n the same thing happen to me!! i got caug with less than a gram of cocaine n i got deported,it could be just residues still consider posseion of control subtances...i{ll get him a good pay job in monterrey is a bilingue job n he will make good money for u n kids to have a descent life togrther mean while they come up with a waiver wich i dought it [email protected]

Another important thing  I

Another important thing  I forgot to mention, the second day he was detained the cop wanted to charge me with that cocaine and I was pregnant!? I've asked people in Adel about him and they have ALL said he is racist towards hispanics and blacks. WTF!!!!

Drugs and Immigration

If you really want to be a US Citizen, follow the laws.  Don't use drugs.  If you want your drugs more, than you have made your choice that this is not your home.

Thank you for your help

Thanks for all of your wisdom Mother Teresa.

My fiancé is incarcerated in

My fiancé is incarcerated in California on drug possession with intent to transport and we are from canada. Is there any possibility of the courts just deporting him home instead of making him serve a sentence over there. I would rather him to just get deported back to Canada and never step foot on us soil again, is this a possibility?

What kind of drug was it? Did

What kind of drug was it? Did he have a medical card silt it was marihuana ?

worried for my life!

I have been in this country since I was 2 years old w a permanent green card, I got arrested when I was 18 years old for cocaine posession ( the bag was empty) first time offender, 15 years have passed now since then and I have never done anything else bad. I have my felony charge sealed and today I went to my American Citizenship Interview, and they told me that a decision can not be made yet that my application has to go threw the supervisor and I will be informed by mail. I am so scared! What could happen?!

ice will get to you!! make u

ice will get to you!! make u get an inmmigration lawyer, after that u have to stay couple of weeks in a inmmigration detention center, till you see the federal judge n from there if you had your resident for years dont worry they will make u get a bond n get out n at the end they will let you go!! seriously all they want is ur money.. you have to go thrue all that bullshit for them to take ur money nstead of giving u slap on the wrist n let u go. thats how the system work i was there no bullshit...believe u wont never get citizenship no dought about that!! but everytime u do something minor u will go thru it all the time! since u got that charge!!

Need help on what you posted here please

Can you give me a call for my son was detained yesterday for a previous dismissed marijuana possession case and we are really scared of what is about to happen.

My number is 818-640-3266





i have been in the U.S since 2007 i came here with a B2 visa with my father for medical reasons. but i got charged with  5th degree felony Marijuana sale for 5.0 grams back in February 2011 and i finished probation and got stay of adjudication. i was told stay of adjudication  isn't qualified for immigrants the lord knows how much money i spent of lawyer fees to get that and it happened not to work for ''immigrants'' i got married to my HS sweet heart and we have a 3 month old infant. i applied for an extension back in April 2013 and still to this day i haven't gotten an answer and im pretty sure my case is the reason i havent heard from ICE. i went to an immigration lawyer and she told if i apply for a green now that could put me at risk of removal proceedings i dont know what to do im lost here i don't want to risk being illegal at the same time i cant leave my family behind my wife with a 3 month daughter to take care on her own. if any body had a simalir situation or know a thing or two about immigration please help!

Human Rights Watch research into immigration and drugs

I am a US researcher at Human Rights Watch, an international, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending the human rights of people worldwide, and I am conducting research into what happens to families when individuals are detained or deported after convictions for drug offenses. I am looking for individuals and families with direct experience of these laws to participate in this research and help us change these harsh laws. If you are interested in participating or have any questions, please feel free to contact me at [email protected] or visit our Facebook Page (, where you can find more information on this project, our previous research, and our plans for advocacy to change US immigration law. 

Human Rights Watch research into immigration and drugs

I am a US researcher at Human Rights Watch, an international, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending the human rights of people worldwide, and I am conducting research into what happens to families when individuals are detained or deported after convictions for drug offenses. I am looking for individuals and families with direct experience of these laws to participate in this research and help us change these harsh laws. If you are interested in participating or have any questions, please feel free to contact me at [email protected] or visit our Facebook Page (, where you can find more information on this project, our previous research, and our plans for advocacy to change US immigration law. 

Can I be denied my residency renewal for having a marihuana card

So I'm renewing my green card this upcoming year, and I know I have till November or December to apply since the process takes 4-5 months. I was recently told that to federal laws a drug is a drug regardless of how it was obtain. My question is can I be denied to renewal for having a medical marijuana card? I have the bigger card of 99 plants, and although I don't smoke I never thought It would prob affect me. I got it to make vegan edibles at the new California farmers market cannabis but it was a no go. I am now with this card and don't use it, never had a problem of any kind with the law. Can someone please answer my question I'm going bananas. Thank you.

If an American is married to

If an American is married to an immigrant and the immigrant gets arrested for drugs does he stay in the U.S or does he get deported?

theft , accused of pipe

hi , im here because i was accused of theft and posssion, !st thing is that i didt know the vehicle was stolen,2nd the vehicle had a pipe on the side of the driver,which was the so claim"owner" that told me it was his vehicle.  i did not know the pipe was there. would these affect me? i am anxious and getting depressed for my situation. i just want to live a good life and be succesfull.

Admitted to drug use but tested negative

My husband just had his medical exam in Ciudad Juarez, his interview is in a few days. He admitted to using cocaine two times about two to three years ago. His urine and blood were tested, and should be negative for anything. He has no record of anything other than a few speeding tickets from years ago. (Lawyer told us those wont be a problem) Does anyone know what might happen?

On the same boat.

My husband also confessed to drug use in the past . What happened to your husband ?

Same Boast

Same boat to, any update on what happend?

can they deny her

hi , i had my wifes immigration interview in ciudad juarez, and she was placed on administrative review by the  immigration officer, she was told that she was under review because her ex husband was deported because of a drug charge, can they deny her her visa for somethinig her ex-husband did?

my boyfriend

Me and my boyfriend have been together 4 and 1/2 yrs...he was standing outside g His motel room and a police office ask of he had been smoking which he had....he had a joint in his pocket...they took him to jail...he was out within 5 hours on a cash bond of 1, one would bond him out because he didn't have a ss number..ok so he has court in two days...he doeant have any papers and we have a two yr old son together....will he get deported when he goes to court???? Someone please help

Drug abuse 20 years ago

ive a friend who was incarcerated for three months 20 years ago ...I think it was for Cocaine.... Ever since Then he has never set foot in jail nor has he had any other problems with the law... Is there any hope for people who committed these type of crimes many years ago?

My step dad is not a U.S

My step dad is not a U.S citizen but he has lives here since he was 3 months old only obtaining a residency. I believe this is his second misdemeanor charge with I think cocain large amount. This happened back in June but he was released. This is his third court and nothing has been taken from us and I don't understand ? It seems like this might be his finall court before he's encarcerated from what I have over heard my parents talking ... Will they take away our house and will he be deported ?

I need help. So my boyfriend

I need help. So my boyfriend is or was let say was a drug dealer. He got caught many times. But they always let him go. The last time he was on probation for 2 years . He missed court appeal and he just went to turn himself in. so he is jail right now. He is an US Citizen. I am  illegal and we were thinking in getting married and have a baby. And also fix my papers. To apply for my Green card. this will probably will happen in 4 years. Not sure yet.

My question is do you think that i could get my green card denied because of his history?? I don't do any drugs!! I am in college right now. I have a stable job studying business. and i am thinking to open a business when im done with college. 

Please advice.

Immigration and drygs

Hello I was pull over by cup and had a big amount of meth in my car it wasn't mine I made a deal with the cops there were no charges against me but now they want to deport me I'm a resident and this is my first offence what can I do I have kid born here and American citizen siaterz please help

Applying for a a Green Card with 2 drug charges

Hello I entered the country legally in 2005 on a student visa , in 2008 I got charged for possession of weed and drug paraphernalia, which I didn’t know because I only had one cigarette of weed nothing else . I got married in 2016 and through my husband I’m fixing my papers , we hired a immigration lawyer . This charges happened in the state of Utah where I was attending school at the time. I live in califonia with my spouse now. What are the chances of my green card being accepted? Am I in danger of being deported. My husband is an American citizen. My lawer is working on my case but still I’m terrified. Best MarceLo


My ex wife has had a green card since 1999, in late 2017 she pleaded guilty to possesssion of a control substance with 3 years probation it was not hers but was in her car left by someone else

now she is face immigration for deportation, she do not have any history of drug offensives nor do she do any drugs i need information on filing the proper documentation to submit to court because lawyers in idaho want 10k

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