Immigration and the war on drugs

Any one of the more than 22,000 arrests made in our state last year over misdemeanor marijuana possession could snowball into the nightmare of losing one’s job, losing a license used to make a living – to be a nurse, a home health aide, or a security guard – or for immigrants, losing the ability to remain in our country. All that stands alongside stigma and other consequences. This legislation is an important part of tackling that current, overly punitive approach. Steps like this one move us toward the wiser, more humane approach New Yorkers deserve.
— Senator Jessie Hamilton
Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Connecting the War on Drugs to the War on Immigrants

The drug war has increasingly become a war against immigrant communities.  Much as the drug war drives mass incarceration, it is also a major driver of mass deportation. Since 2007, over a quarter of a million people have been deported from the U.S. after convictions for drug offenses. Unfortunately, while drug diversion programs are designed to help drug offenders avoid criminal convictions and the damaging collateral consequences that can follow, many existing programs often fail both immigrants and citizens. For immigrants, even successful participation in a drug diversion program can result in deportation. Citizens and non-citizens are often better served by programs that avoid the criminal justice system altogether.

Credit: Jens Schott Knudsen |  | Twitter  @jensschott

Credit: Jens Schott Knudsen | | Twitter @jensschott


Immigration and Marijuana offenses

The Supreme Court recognized that although the criminal justice system and civil immigration law are two distinct legal systems, “deportation is nevertheless intimately related to the criminal process.” When these two structures interact, the consequences can be very severe. In recent years, the federal government has moved away from harsh drug sentences and is working to ease prison-overcrowding.

Despite reforms, immigrants are being left behind, and they are still subject to extreme and permanent penalties for even very minor possession offenses. In October of 2015, the Department of Justice released 6,000 incarcerated individuals early from prison as a result of changes to the federal sentencing guidelines for nonviolent drug offenses. However, one-third of those individuals were foreign-born and were deported.

Even as criminal justice system reforms ease penalties for persons convicted of minor drug offenses, the consequences for immigrants remain severe.

Read Report on Prop 64 and its potential impact on immigrants with marijuana offenses.