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Deportation and Drug Convictions

Values: Everyone deserves to be treated fairly under the law.

Everyone who goes before a judge deserves a fair day in court, with a full hearing that takes into account the individual circumstances of the case.

Problem: Immigrants with drug convictions are not treated fairly

Drug use is increasingly viewed by US society as a public health issue rather than a matter for the criminal justice system, and a growing number of states have legalized or decriminalized marijuana use. Yet the US government continues to aggressively target immigrants for deportation based on drug offenses, including marijuana offenses. Four times in the past decade the US Supreme Court has rejected the federal government’s harsh application of immigration laws to drug offenses.

  • Aggressive drug enforcement has funneled hundreds of thousands immigrants into the deportation pipeline.

    The US government, under the banner of a “war on drugs,” has dramatically ramped up drug enforcement in recent decades, disproportionately targeting communities of color, including immigrants. From 1997 to 2012, one out of every four “criminal removals”—more than 250,000 deportations—involved a person whose most serious conviction was for a drug offense.

  • Immigrants with drug convictions are denied basic due process.

    Immigration laws apply the term “aggravated felony” to some low-level state offenses related to a federally “controlled substance” and even to misdemeanors that carried little or no jail time. An aggravated felony triggers mandatory detention and deportation even for long-time lawful permanent residents, leaving judges powerless to consider any mitigating or humanitarian factors, such as the nature of the offense or the person’s family ties in the US.

  • Deportation is a vastly disproportionate punishment.

    The government can deport immigrants, including legal permanent residents, on the basis of virtually any drug offense, including marijuana offenses, and permanently bar unauthorized immigrants from ever gaining legal status. Deportation amounts to a drastic punishment, since it often means tearing families apart.

Solution: End mass detention and deportation of immigrants with drug convictions

  • End the war on drugs. The US government should reduce or eliminate penalties for drug offenses, and approach drugs as a public health matter, not an immigration issue – decouple deportation and drug convictions;
  • Remove drug offenses from list of “aggravated felonies.” Deportation shouldn’t be mandatory for drug offenses: a judge should be able to consider all the circumstances of a case before ordering deportation;
  • End mass detention and deportation. Targeting immigrants with drug convictions is just one tactic in the government’s drive to detain and deport as many immigrants as possible, regardless of the human suffering it causes.
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