The Trump administration’s cruel campaign against immigrants has shed light on the struggles of undocumented people, but one issue that’s often left out is the effects of marijuana policy in relation to immigrant detainment. Since April 19, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has adopted a policy that can bar a person from obtaining citizenship for possession of marijuana, even in a state where it is legal.
Lifetime bans on Canadians for marijuana possession have attracted public awareness on this issue. The arrest by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of 21 Savage not only shocked his fans but drew attention to the complexities of the immigration system. Another British national was wrongfully detained and not allowed back into the US for 10 years simply because ICE agents confiscated her mobile phone to find an old text message that mentioned cocaine. These examples along with countless others disclose a campaign of intimidation by a government agency whose victims don’t have the same rights as US citizens.
It’s worth noting that the criminalization of marijuana was in itself a product of America’s racism. The first states to criminalize it were in the west, mostly ones with farms that used Mexican labor after the Mexican Revolution. The very first drug raid happened in a Mexican-American neighborhood in Los Angeles in 1914.
It’s a positive first step to draw attention to the inhumane conditions faced by immigrants detained inside for-profit prisons. But it is necessary that we address the root problems of why people are being locked up to begin with.
Whenever I look at the mass media, I only see images of large amounts of immigrants being detained in Spanish-language media. In English-language media you may see a few mentions of immigration. Yet all of this coverage falls short of addressing the outrageous laws created to imprison people. Immigrants have been deported for a variety of unjust reasons, including having obtained marijuana legally.
That might be one of the reasons why it hasn’t been debated as much. There are still federal laws that classify it as a felony. As scapegoating politicians continue with their misguided war on drugs, it is necessary to fight for decriminalization.
Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) recently introduced the Removing Marijuana from Deportable Offenses Act, which would remove marijuana offenses from immigration deportations. Yet even with 21 sponsors, it faces an uphill battle to be signed into law.
It is crucial that the public continues to pressure politicians on this issue. After all, public outcry and mass organizing is the best way to push politicians to pass legislation. Political organizations that support the rights of immigrants must continue fighting to resolve this injustice.