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Know Your Rights: Controlled Substances and Immigration Consequences

blog9.jpgThe U.S. maintains high standards for non-citizens when it comes to compliance with the law; the area where this is most evident is law related to controlled substances.

For decades, the U.S. Congress has taken a hard-line approach against drug use and trafficking, enforcing harsh punishments on citizens and non-citizens who are involved in these activities. Therefore, use or conviction for controlled substance related crime carries harsh immigration penalties including deportation and future inability to obtain a Green Card. In fact, according to the Immigration Defense Project from 1997-2012, one out of four criminal immigration removal cases stemmed from past drug offenses.

Generally, "controlled substances" include all recreational drugs including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and non-prescription drugs. The major exceptions to this category are marijuana (under 30 grams), alcohol, tobacco, and prescription medications. In terms of drug-related crimes, non-citizens can be punished for any number of reasons including having a positive drug test, possession of drug paraphernalia, or drug trafficking.

For non-immigrants including visitors and students, controlled substance use can result in your removal and prevention of obtaining a future Green Card. Under INA Sec. 212, among the controlled substance issues which may prevent your Green Card are:

  • Controlled Substances Conviction, including possession

  • Admission of a Controlled Substances Offense, even without conviction

  • Crime of Moral Turpitude Conviction

  • Admission of a Crime of Moral Turpitude

  • "Reason to Believe" Noncitizen is or was a Drug Trafficker

  • Family Members of Noncitizens DHS has "Reason to Believe" is or was a Drug Trafficker

  • Drug Abuse or Addiction

For Green Card holders/Legal Permanent Residents, controlled substance use can also result in deportation. Under INA Sec. 237, among the controlled substances issues which may result in deportation are:

  • Aggravated Felony Conviction

  • Controlled Substances Conviction

  • Crime of Moral Turpitude Conviction

  • Drug Abuse or Addiction

While there are some methods to overcome these issues, it is most helpful to have proper legal counsel from the beginning to avoid long-term consequences. As such, it is extremely important for non-citizens who are facing drug charges to hire a criminal attorney who is familiar with immigration law. They will be in the best position to negotiate on your behalf to avoid immigration consequences. Further, non-citizens should be prepared to take harsher criminal punishments in exchange for more lenient immigration consequences. While this may be difficult in the short-term it could be the difference between staying in the U.S. or returning to your home country.

Since the U.S. perspective on controlled substance use does not seem to be waning or becoming more sympathetic, non-citizens should be extremely careful and vigilant in their activities and be aware of the potential consequences.

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Chong Immigration Law PLLC
1629 K Street NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20006

Phone: 202-798-7328
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