Life isn’t easy. Our inadequate immigration policy makes people vulnerable to unforgiving consequences. Simple possession charges create a merciless situation – much like how it is for Oscar Reyes.
Oscar, age 27, lives in Woodbridge, Virginia. He came to the United States with his family from the Dominican Republic when he was three. His family was granted a visa to get him the medical attention he needed. Oscar was born with Noonan Syndrome – a genetic, chromosomal deficiency that prevents normal development in various parts of the body and possible developmental delays. Today, Oscar bears the scars from surgery on his face.
After thirty years of living in America, Oscar has a family of his own, including a young daughter. He also has charges for cannabis possession with intent to distribute from 2012 and 2015. Prosecutors have a lot of discretion to charge possession with intent to distribute and tend to favor the more serious charge regardless if there really was any selling going on. He was pressured to plead guilty to the PWID charges and be an informant just like the individuals who snitched on him, but for Oscar, if he did not participate, he would face immediate deportation.
These charges prevent Oscar from getting a driver’s license, a house for his family, and renewing his legal resident alien or green card. Renewing his green card requires him to plead guilty with complete disregard for his innocence or guilt. If he pleads guilty, he’ll get deported.
In America, diversion programs require a guilty plea. For legal residents, pleading guilty subjects the alleged offender to automatic deportation – regardless if they live in a state where cannabis is legal or not.
The laws – and consequences –for non-citizens (including permanent residents, work or student visas, and undocumented workers) are unnecessarily strict and heavily enforced. Cannabis prohibition violations result in automatic detention and deportation, often without the possibility of return. Minor offenses can also prevent legal permanent residents from returning to the US if they decide to leave the country for any reason – effectively separating them from their families and livelihoods.
If convicted, Oscar will go to a for-profit US prison and be deported back to the Dominican Republic immediately upon release. Having fled the Dominican Republic as a toddler, Oscar lacks support networks and necessities like housing, health, food, and security. He and his family will become like one of the thousands of families broken and torn apart every year, barred from reentry for life.
The drug war is infamous for mass incarceration, but it also fuels mass deportation and breeds racial profiling, border militarization, violence, intrusive government surveillance, and widespread detentions and deportations.
Roughly 40,000 people have been deported every year since 2008. According to ICE, the number one charge for removal is simple possession, with cannabis possession being the fourth most common cause for removal overall.
Less than 1% of all deportations are drug traffickers, reinforcing that the stereotypes against immigrants are racially biased and arrogantly ignore reality and humanity. The majority of immigrants are pursuing the same things as citizens – the ability to provide a safe, secure, healthy, and happy life with opportunity for themselves and their families. Why is cannabis use considered proof of immoral character and the basis for denial of citizenship and deportation when over half of all US states have legalized some form of use?
Fortunately, reform and modernization are possible. The MORE Act, removes cannabis from its Schedule 1 drug status. By doing so, non-citizens who commit a cannabis offense will only face state penalties and will not be threatened by federal immigration policies specific to Cannabis anymore.
Oscar’s lawyer has encouraged him to share his story, and you can help spread the message by urging your legislators to support cannabis and immigration reform like the MORE Act. Your actions will make all the difference.