Immigration

RSS Feed for this category

Almost Any Drug Offense Can Keep You from Becoming a Citizen or Getting a Green Card

Yasha Spector of drugpolicycases.com has joined us in the Speakeasy with a discussion of the intersection of immigration law and drug law. As Spector, who works in immigration law, explains in some detail:
[P]retty much every drug offense is sufficient to permanently bar getting a green card or obtaining U.S. citizenship.
There are exceptions that the government can make in limited circumstances, but they are limited, and many more cases carry the likelihood of automatic deportation -- no judicial exceptions. Plea bargaining might help one avoid a prison sentence, but it doesn't help with the immigration problems. There was a little good news in this area courtesy the Supreme Court in 2006. But there is still little to be done in most cases, and people are being deported who for all intents and purposes have never lived in any other country than here.

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.

No Relief in Sight: Reynosa, Mexico, Military Occupation Yields No Let-Up in Drug War Violence

In the latest move in his ongoing war against Mexico's powerful and violent drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels -- President Felipe Calderón last month sent some 6,000 Mexican soldiers and federal police into the cities on his side of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, from Nuevo Laredo down to Matamoros. They disarmed the municipal police forces, who are widely suspected of being in the pay of the traffickers, established checkpoints between and within cities, and are conducting regular patrols in Reynosa and elsewhere.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/reynosa-hidalgo.jpg
Reynosa/Hidalgo border crossing (courtesy portland.indymedia.org)
The crackdown on the Tamaulipas border towns came after a bloody year last year. According to the Reynosa-based Center for Border Studies and the Protection of Human Rights (CEFPRODHAC), drug prohibition-related violence claimed 67 lives in Tamaulipas border towns last year. But it was only after a violent shootout in Rio Bravo (between Reynosa and Matamoros) last month that resulted in several traffickers killed and nearly a dozen soldiers wounded, and the cartel's retaliatory attacks on army patrols in the center of Reynosa the next day that Calderón sent in the soldiers.

Since then, the military occupation has put a damper on the economy -- and especially the nightlife -- of Reynosa and other valley border towns, but it hasn't stopped the killing. According to CEFPRODHAC, as of Tuesday, 18 more people have been killed in the Tamaulipas drug wars so far this year, accounting for the vast majority of the 25 killings overall. In Reynosa, a whopping 12 of the city's 14 homicides this year were related to the drug war, including one Sunday night.

If the army hasn't stopped the killing, it has brought the city's tourist economy to a near halt. Several bar and club owners in the Zona Rosa, the tourist zone near the international bridge said they had been ordered to close at 10:00pm by soldiers or police. They also said it barely mattered, because they weren't getting any business anyway.

"We used to have the Texans coming across to party," said one club owner who asked not to be named. "Now they don't come. They don't want to be harassed by the soldiers."

Workers in some of Reynosa's seedier industries -- prostitutes, strip joint workers, pirate taxi drivers -- even led a protest march two weeks ago, complaining that the occupation was making it impossible for them to earn a living. (A pair of Reynosa businessmen who absolutely declined to go on the record claimed that the march was backed by the narcos, but that is a charge that is yet unproven.)

While Calderón's resort to sending in the army -- more than 20,000 troops have been deployed to hotspots in the past year -- has won praise in Washington and even some support among Reynosans tired of the violence, it is also leading to a spike in human rights abuses, according to CEFPRODHAC. "We have had 11 complaints of abuse filed with us since the soldiers came," said Juan Manuel Cantú, head of the group's documentation office. "One in Rio Bravo and 10 here. People are complaining that the soldiers enter their homes illegally, that they torture them, that they steal things from their homes -- electronic equipment, jewelry, even food. The soldiers think they're at war, and everyone here on the border is a narco," Cantú complained.

CEFPRODHAC dutifully compiles and files the complaints, Cantú said, but has little expectation that the military will act to address them. The military opened a human rights office last month, but it has so far made little difference, he said. "Until now, there is no justice. When the complaints go to SEDENA [the office of the secretary of defense], they always say there are no human rights violations."

When the abuses come at the hands of the police or the military, victims or relatives will at least file complaints, even if they don't have much expectation of results. But when it comes to abuses by the narcos, the fear of retaliation is too great for the victims or their families to complain. "People don't want to talk about those crimes," said Cantú. "They won't talk to us or the official human rights organizations, they won't talk to the military, they won't talk to the federal police. They feel threatened by the narcos."

Paired with Brownsville and McAllen on the Texas side, Reynosa, Matamoros, and the other cities on the Mexican side are part of a bi-national conurbation with a combined population somewhere around three million. (Roughly 700,000 people in the McAllen area, 400,000 in the Brownsville area, 700,000 in Matamoros, another 500,000 in Reynosa, and a few tens of thousands scattered in between). Spanish is the most commonly heard tongue on both sides of the border. While the military occupation and the drug war violence (for the most part) is restricted to the Mexican side, the drug trade and the drug war are felt on both sides, albeit in different ways.

Mike Allen is vice-chair of the Texas Border Commission, a non-governmental entity that seeks to represent the interest of elected officials on the Texas side of the Rio Grande. Among the commission's primary concerns are facilitating cross-border trade and fending off what it sees as bone-headed responses to concerns about security on the border.

Number one on the commission's list of complaints is the planned border wall, which is set to cut across South Texas, forcing landowners to go through distant gates to get to portions of their property beyond the fence and, according to unhappy local officials, damaging the environment without serving its stated purpose of controlling the border. Local officials and landowners are now engaged in legal battles with the Department of Homeland Security as the department threatens to exercise eminent domain to seize property for the wall.

"The wall is a huge waste of money," said Allen. "Those of us living here know that. The Mexicans will go over, under, or around it. But you have to remember that 99% of the people coming across that border are trying to get jobs. They're not criminals or terrorists or drug traffickers."

But some of them are, he conceded, pointing a finger at his own compatriots. "The reason we have so much drug trafficking here is that we have so many American citizens taking drugs," said Allen. "It doesn't matter what we do -- the drug trafficking will continue one way or another because there is such a demand for it in the US."

The drug trade has not adversely affected local economies, said Allen. That is perhaps an understatement. While the Lower Rio Grande Valley has high indices of poverty, it also has gleaming office towers, numerous banks, high-end specialty stores, thrumming traffic, and gigantic shopping centers like La Plaza in McAllen, where the JC Penney's store stays open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and everyone -- customers and employees alike -- seems to be speaking Spanish.

"We have more banks here than we have 7-11s," former DEA agent and valley resident Celerino Castillo chuckled ruefully. "This is supposed to be a poor area, but everybody's driving Escalades."

But while the drug trade may not have hurt business along the border, the drug prohibition-related violence associated with it has -- on both sides of the border. "People hear about those shootings, and they don't want to cross the bridge into Mexico," said Allen. "A lot of Americans don't want to cross into Mexico, and that means some of them won't be coming here on their way," he said.

And while there is much noise about corruption in Mexico, that door swings both ways, said Castillo, who first came to public attention when he exposed US-linked drug-running out of El Salvador's Ilopango Air Base during the Central American wars of the 1980s in his book Powderburns.

"There is corruption on both sides of the border," said Castillo. "The drug war isn't about stopping drugs; it's about lining pockets. That's why this billion dollar aid package is just bullshit. We've been fighting this war for 30 years, and we're worse off than when we started."

Castillo regularly works gun shows in the area selling Vietnam-era memorabilia, and he said he regularly encounters cartel members there. "They're always showing up looking for weaponry," he said, "along with members of the Mexican military. It's very, very busy."

Some handguns are in high demand by cartel members, said Castillo. "They really like the Belgian FN Herstal P90 because they can easily remove the serial number," he explained. "These things retail for $1,000, but cartel buyers will turn around and pay $2,500 for them, and whoever takes them across the border gets $4,000 a weapon," he said.

Other, heavier, weapons and munitions are not available in the civilian gun market, but that just means the cartels use other networks, Castillo said. "The heavy weapons, the grenade launchers, the mass quantities of ammo are only available in military armories, here or in Central America. We sell tons of weapons to the Salvadoran Army, and it's my belief they're turning around and selling them to the cartels."

The drug trade thrives off poverty of both sides of the border, said one local observer. "In reality, you can put a lot of money into policing, but people have to eat, people have to survive," said Marco Davila, a professor of criminology at the University of Texas-Brownsville. "If there are no jobs, you have to do something. It's not just the drug trade, there is also prostitution, theft, and other forms of deviance."

What is needed on both sides of the Lower Rio Grande Valley is real assistance, not massive anti-drug programs for law enforcement, said Davila. "You can put that money wherever, but if the people are still hurting, it will be a toss-up whether it will work. The people who need money are not the cops and soldiers," he said.

CEFPRODHAC's Cantú agreed with that assessment. "That money isn't going to make us safe," he said. "It won't do anything good. If the soldiers get that US aid, it will only mean more violence. They are prepared for war, not policing. What we need are programs for drug education and prevention, even here in Mexico, but especially in the United States," he said. When asked about drug legalization, Cantú was willing to ponder it. "It might stop the violence," he mused.

On the Texas side, said Davila, a culture of poverty traps whole generations of poor Latinos. "Look at these kids in Brownsville," he said. "They have no hope. They've given up. They're not talking about trying hard. They're saying 'We're gangsters, we're gonna sell drugs.' People used to have tattoos of the Virgin of Guadelupe, but now she's been replaced by Scarface."

On the other side of the river, poverty drives the drug trade, too -- as well as illegal immigration. "The Mexicans are just broke, scared, and hungry. They have nothing else," said Davila. "If they don't want to go into an illegal trade, like drug trafficking, they come across the border any way they can. People are putting their lives on the line to cross that river," he said.

And many of them are paying the ultimate price. According to reports from Reynosa human rights watchers, 75 would-be immigrants drowned in the Rio Grande between Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros last year. Another five have drowned already this year.

And so it goes on the Mexican border. Just as it has for the past 20 years, when in yet another stark example of the law of unintended consequences, then President Reagan appointed Vice President George Bush to head a task force designed to block Caribbean cocaine smuggling routes. From that moment, what had previously been relatively small, local, family smuggling operations carrying loads of marijuana into the US began morphing into the Frankenstein monster known as the cartels.

Mexico and the United States are inextricably intertwined. A solution to the problems of drug abuse and the violent black market drug trade is going to have to be a joint solution. But few observers on the ground think throwing more money at Mexico's drug war is the answer.

Sentencing: US Supreme Court Rules for Immigrants in Drug Possession Deportation Case

In a decision issued Tuesday, the US Supreme Court made it easier for some immigrants convicted of drug possession under state laws to avoid deportation. Under the Immigration and Naturalization Act, immigrants convicted of an aggravated felony face mandatory deportation. In this case, the court held that even if a conviction for drug possession is considered a felony under state law, if it is not considered a felony under the federal Controlled Substances Act, it cannot be an aggravated felony for immigration purposes.

The ruling came in the case of Lopez v. Gonzalez. Jose Antonio Lopez, who was born in Mexico, was a 16-year legal permanent resident of the US with a wife and children and a family business when he was arrested in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and charged with aiding and abetting cocaine possession. Under South Dakota law, that's a felony. Lopez pled guilty and was sentenced to five years in state prison. Upon finishing his prison sentence, he was deported to Mexico in January 2006.

Lopez appealed his deportation by an Immigration and Naturalization Service judge, but in a 2005 opinion, the US 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis denied him. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and now Lopez has a chance to come back to his new home in the US.

The ruling came on an 8-1 vote, with Justice Clarence Thomas alone in the dissent.

The Bush administration argued that Congress left the door open to counting such offenses as aggravated felonies, but Justice David Souter, who wrote the opinion, and the court weren't buying it. In a passage where he accused the government of "incoherence," Souter added that "the government's way... would often turn simple possession into trafficking, just what the English language tells us not to expect and that result makes us very wary of the government's position."

With some 12 million permanent resident immigrants living in the country, the Lopez ruling is likely to affect thousands of immigrants with minor drug-related convictions.

Court bars deportation over drugs

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Washington Times
URL: 
http://washingtontimes.com/national/20061205-105016-6397r.htm

People are Getting Beheaded in Mexico

It’s horrible. But there’s nothing very surprising about it. The drug war promises endless violence and always delivers. Pablo Escobar killed three presidential candidates in the same election and blew up an entire passenger plane to kill two snitches.

This year beheadings are popular. I wonder what people would say if things like this were happening on American soil:

In the most horrendous instance, drug lord gangs busted into a nightclub, toting rifles, and rolled five heads across the dance floor, terrifying onlookers.

People were surprised, but I’m sure everyone knew what it was all about. This kind of thing has been commonplace ever since the drug war began.

Various anti-immigration bloggers are now citing these incidents as evidence that our borders must be secured, for fear that Mexicans will come to America and start cutting peoples’ heads off.

It’s a bit silly, because the worst drug traffickers have no reason to leave Mexico. They’ve got the run of the place. The people crossing the border are poor folks who come here for economic opportunities, less-overt corruption, and white picket fences that don’t have severed heads impaled on them.

If you’re concerned about immigration, note that our drug war incentivizes traffickers to dig tunnels and cut holes in the fence.

If you don’t want your tax-dollars spent educating foreigners, note that you’re footing the bill to train counter-narcotics police in Colombia that just get massacred ten at a time.

And if you’re troubled by all the beheadings near our border, note that our current policy ensures their continuation for the remainder of human history.

Stopping the drug war is our only chance to defund drug terrorists and bring a close to this global catastrophe.


Location: 
United States

Book Review: "De los Maras a los Zetas: Los secretos del narcotrafico, de Colombia a Chicago" by Jorge Fernandez Menendez and Victor Ronquillo (Mexico City: Editorial Grijalbo, 2006, 290 pp. PB)

If one wishes an object lesson in the unintended consequences of drug prohibition, one need look no further than the other side of the Rio Grande. Like all borders, the US-Mexican border has always been the scene of a lively trade in contraband. Although the authors of "From the Maras to the Zetas: The Secrets of the Drug Trade, From Colombia to Chicago" don't get into the prehistory of Mexico's powerful drug trafficking organizations, way back in those halcyon days of the 1960s and 1970s, a lot of marijuana moved across that border, but it was a largely peaceful trade, often a family affair.

In 1982, when President Ronald Reagan, having declared a new war on drugs, sent Vice-President George H.W. Bush to Miami to head up a new effort to block the flood of Colombian cocaine flowing across the Caribbean to Florida, the Colombians adjusted by shifting smuggling routes through Mexico. The Colombian used existing smuggling networks, which since then have grown into a Frankenstein monster, not only in the eyes of the Mexican state, but also in the eyes of their Colombian counterparts, who have found themselves squeezed out of end-stage distribution to the US and the massive profits that followed.

Fueled by Colombian cocaine, American dollars, and American weaponry, in the past 20 years, Mexico's so-called "cartels" -- a misnomer for these brutally competitive trafficking organizations -- have corrupted legions of Mexican police, soldiers, and politicians, and murdered as many more. Every time the Mexican state, hounded by its partner to the north, tries to crack down on the cartels, the result is not social tranquility or the end of the drug trade, but bloody gang wars as the different organizations fight for position -- and the flow of drugs never seems to be affected.

In the past couple of years, the cartels have become so brazen and the death toll from the constant "ajuste de cuentas" ("adjusting of accounts" or "settling scores") so horrendous -- more than 1,500 last year and a like number so far this year -- that they appear to be working with impunity.

Enter Mexico City journalists Jorge Fernandez Menendez and Victor Ronquillo. With the drug trafficking groups beheading police and engaging in street battles with RPGs in Acapulco and wreaking mortal havoc along the US border, their timing couldn't be better because they aim to explain the murky workings of the Mexican drug trade. They study and report on Mara Salvatrucha, the much screamed about gang that grew out from the children of Salvadoran refugees in Los Angeles and other American cities (another lesson in unintended consequences) who learned all too well the ways of the thug life, then re-exported it back home to Central America. According to Fernandez and Ronquillo, Mara Salvatrucha controls much of the traffic in illegal immigrants and drugs -- on Mexico's southern border. But like the truly Mexican criminal organizations, its tentacles extend far to the north as well.

They also provide the skinny on the Zetas, the US-trained former anti-drug elite force that switched sides and now acts as the armed forces of Osiel Cardenas and the Gulf Cartel -- one more lesson in unintended consequences. Thanks to the paramilitary skills of the Zetas, Cardenas has been able to directly confront the Mexican state, as when his men killed six prison employees in Matamoros in early 2005 in retaliation for a federal government crackdown on imprisoned cartel leaders.

There is much, much more in between. Fernandez and Ronquillo warn that imprisoned cartel leaders spent part of their time behind bars buddying up with imprisoned leftist guerrillas and could be either learning tactical lessons or forging unholy alliances with them. Despite the apparent ideological differences between Marxist rebels and drug traffickers, the Mexican cartels have shown that when it comes to business they are nonpartisan. They will corrupt politicians of any party, make deals with whoever can benefit them, and kill those who get in their way.

The cartels circle around power. When the old-time PRI ran the government, the cartels corrupted the PRI. When the PAN government of President Vicente Fox came to power, they attempted to corrupt it, and as Fernandez and Ronquillo demonstrate, they have arguably succeeded. PANista politicians have been caught attending the funerals of leading narcos, PANista local administrations have been bought off, and the narcos even managed to place an associate in President Fox's inner circle before the taint of scandal drove him off.

But while Fernandez and Ronquillo are quite good in unraveling the mysteries of the cartels and explicating the results of decades of prohibitionist drug policy, they fail to make the leap to the next level. For them, "From the Maras to the Zetas" is a desperate wake-up call for the Mexican public and political class, a warning that the power of the cartels threatens the integrity of the Mexican state. They do not take the next step and ask if there is not a better way. But then again, they really don't have to -- the book itself is eloquent testimony to the corrupt and bloody legacy of prohibition in Mexico.

Yes, the book is only available in Spanish. It won't be much use to many of our North American readers, but Drug War Chronicle also goes out in Spanish and Portuguese, and perhaps if we can drum up a little interest here in Gringolandia, an American or Canadian publisher will print a translation. Goodness knows we get very little serious reporting up here about the Mexican drug war.

In the meantime, for you English-only speakers out there with an interest in this topic, I recommend the recent report from the Washington Office on Latin America, "State of Siege: Drug-Related Violence and Corruption in Mexico."

Feature: Cases of Immigrants Deported for Minor Drug Offenses Heard at US Supreme Court This Week

The US Supreme Court Tuesday heard oral arguments in two consolidated cases that question whether immigrants who are legal US residents should face mandatory deportation for small-time offenses such as drug possession. Thousands of immigrants face such wrenching punishment, and according to the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, more than a million and a half people have been deported since the introduction of mandatory deportation for "aggravated felonies" under the 1996 Immigration and Nationality Act that is being challenged in these cases.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/supremecourt.jpg
US Supreme Court
That law expanded the definition of "aggravated felonies" -- crimes for which deportation is mandatory -- beyond serious violent crimes, which had been the previous standard. The cases before the Supreme Court this week revolve around whether offenses that are considered misdemeanors under the federal Controlled Substances Act but are considered felonies under state law in the states where people were convicted can qualify as "aggravated felonies" under the immigration law.

Many of those deported under the immigration law were in fact found guilty of serious crimes, but many others were not. In one case covered by the Drug War Chronicle, Joao Herbert, who was adopted by American parents from a Brazilian orphanage as a young child but who never applied for US citizenship, was arrested as a teenager for selling a small bag of marijuana. He was sentenced to probation, but federal authorities sought successfully to deport him under the 1996 law. Sent to a land he never knew, he scraped by for a few years as an English teacher before being gunned down by Brazilian police in 2004.

In the cases before the court Tuesday, Lopez v. Gonzales and Toledo-Flores v. US, the offenses for which the US seeks to deport immigrants are even more trivial than in Herbert's case. Jose Antonio Lopez was a Sioux Falls, SD, grocery store and taco stand owner who legally emigrated from Mexico in 1985. The married father of two children, who are US citizens, pleaded guilty to telling someone how to obtain cocaine. Such an offense is a misdemeanor under federal law, but was a felony under South Dakota law. Federal immigration officials classified his offense as an "aggravated felony" under the immigration law and deported him to Mexico.

Reymundo Toledo-Flores was arrested for cocaine possession in Texas, where it is a misdemeanor, but when he was caught trying to reenter the country he was hit with a two-year prison sentence because immigration authorities considered his Texas bust an "aggravated felony" under the immigration law. He is appealing the sentence.

"The problem here is that state law and federal law are at odds in determining the gravity of the offense," Justice David Souter said during oral arguments Tuesday. "Isn't that very strange that Congress would have wanted a reading of the statute that would turn its definition of a misdemeanor crime into an aggravated felony for purposes of the immigration laws?" he asked.

Bush administration attorneys argued that immigration officials correctly classified both cases. "The statutory definition of 'aggravated felony' encompasses large categories of criminal conduct under state law, without requiring a federal-law parallel," the US solicitor general wrote in a brief to the court.

Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler told the court Tuesday that the immigration law "looks to state law." If a drug offense is a felony under state law, it is a deportable felony under the federal law, he argued.

But three former Immigration and Naturalization Service general counsel disagreed in a friend of the court brief they submitted. "There is no clear indication that Congress intended the definition of aggravated felony to apply to drug offenses that are... misdemeanors under the federal law," they wrote.

Chief Justice John Roberts was thinking along similar lines. "It must give you pause," he told Kneedler, "that your analysis of a term 'drug-trafficking' offense... leads to the conclusion that simple possession equates with drug trafficking."

"Immigrants shouldn't be kicked out of the country for doing what the president of the United States did," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "It is clear that the type of drug offenses we are talking about here are not the type of offenses Congress intended when it passed that law," he told Drug War Chronicle. "It also seems like this raises equal protection issues because it looks like whether you get deported or not depends on which state you were convicted in. In those states where drug possession is a felony, you get kicked out; in those where it isn't, you don't."

Immigrant rights and civil liberties groups joined in calling on the court to reject the federal government's broad interpretation of the law, and even the Center for Immigration Studies, which generally hews to a hard line on immigration enforcement, was not overly enthusiastic about deporting small-time drug offenders. "If the state legislature has decided this is a serious crime and someone who commits it will get deported, it's not like that person didn't know it was illegal," said Dr. Steven Camarota, director of research for the group. "I don't see a problem with making those people go. In some cases, however, people plead guilty to a crime not realizing they would be subject to deportation, and that raises a fairness issue," he told Drug War Chronicle. "The whole criminal justice system is supposed to temper justice with mercy, but with immigration we've created so many exceptions and waivers that sometimes it's good to come down hard."

For Camarota, the whole debate over deporting immigrants for small-time drug offenses is "small potatoes" compared to the real immigration issues facing the country. "We are talking about a few thousand people when there are 37 million immigrants in the country," he pointed out. "There is nothing wrong with the way in which the government is approaching this, but it does seem like an awful lot of debate over something so small. We should be putting resources into general enforcement of immigration laws."

"The 1996 law is really destructive," said Arnaldo Garcia of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. "On any given week, you have 20,000 or so legal permanent residents who committed small offenses sitting in jail under deportation proceedings. That includes things like a 20-year-old who had sex with his 17-year-old girlfriend, and it includes things like people getting arrested with small amounts of marijuana on them," he told the Chronicle. "The federal government is trying to institutionalize a double standard. Legal residents have equal rights under our court system, but after they have completed their sentences, they are then subjected to an unfair punishment -- banishment for life. This is a big crack in the foundation of equal treatment under the law."

There is little legal permanent residents can do, said Garcia. "What you can do is make sure you know the law," he said. "If you get arrested, you need to get the advice of an immigration attorney to know the consequences of the charge and whether it's a deportable offense. Some judges will work with you -- doing things like sentencing you to 364 days instead of 366, the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony -- but the INS just wants to deport your ass. I've seen people going in for their citizenship tests and immigration is waiting for them because they got busted as a teenager."

The ultimate protection from deportation under the immigration law is to become a US citizen. "That's easier said than done," said Garcia. "There is a huge backlog. I'm working with one family that submitted a reunification petition in 1994. Their case is just coming up now."

Mexico's Mounting Drug Trade

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Council on Foreign Relations
URL: 
http://www.cfr.org/publication/11599/mexicos_mounting_drug_trade.html

Smugglers Innovate as Border Tightens

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
USA Today
URL: 
http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20060803/a_borderdrugs03.art.htm

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School