On Wednesday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reported a nearly 40 percent increase in immigrant arrests in the first 100 days of the Trump administration compared to the same time period in 2016, including a nearly 20 percent increase in ICE arrests of immigrants convicted of a criminal offense from 25,786 people in 2016 to 30,473 people this year.
It is unclear from the data made available by ICE on Wednesday what proportion of these convictions stemmed from drug charges. However, a 2014 Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University report showed that nearly 250,000 — one-quarter of a million — people were deported for nonviolent drug offenses from 2008 to 2014. A nonviolent drug offense was the cause of deportation for more than one in ten (11 percent of) people deported in 2013 for any reason — and nearly one in five (19 percent) of those who were deported because of a criminal conviction.
Advocates stress that these numbers can be expected to continue to rise dramatically and are the latest sign that the Trump administration threatens to exploit drug war policing and prosecution tools to target and deport large numbers of immigrants for drug law violations, even in cases where drug charges are dismissed or possession is lawful under state law.
“The Trump administration is seeking to escalate the failed war on drugs as a means to further criminalize immigrants and people of color,” said Jerónimo Saldaña, Policy Manager at Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “Not only are immigrants more likely to be entangled in the criminal justice system for engaging in the same practice as whites, but the threat of deportations equates to an unconscionable double punishment.This double standard, along with hateful rhetoric that targets ‘felons not families’, inflicts serious harm on countless communities. ”
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Last month, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly announced that the Trump Administration would continue to use marijuana possession as a reason for deporting immigrants. “ICE will continue to use marijuana possession, distribution and convictions as essential elements as they build their deportation removal apprehension packages for targeted operations against illegal aliens living in the United States,” he said. Marijuana is currently illegal under federal law, but eight states have legalized it for adult use and 28 states have medical marijuana laws. Individuals following state law would be exposed to deportation. In 2013-2014, more than 6,600 people were deported just for personal marijuana possession, and overall, nearly 20,000 people were deported in 2014 alone for simple possession of any drug or drug paraphernalia.
“The Trump administration has made it plain they will even target immigrants who are lawfully using marijuana under state law, including for medical use. It’s outrageous and deplorable to think that our criminal justice system would subject anyone following medical advice under state law to the destructive forces of deportation,” said Jerónimo Saldaña, Policy Manager at Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs.
Reports also surfaced this week that Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is expected to be appointed by Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly to an assistant secretary position charged with coordinating DHS enforcement activities with local law enforcement. Clarke has a track record of advocating hardline and inhumane tactics against communities of color and immigrants including the use of stop-and-frisk and police round ups of immigrants. Clarke has also come under fire for the deaths of several people incarcerated in the local jail under his watch.
According to the Immigrant Defense Project, one out of every four “criminal removals” – over 250,000 deportations – involved a person whose most serious conviction was for a drug offense. Human Rights Watch released a report in 2015 on drug deportations, noting that, “Thousands of families in the United States have been torn apart in recent years by detention and deportation for drug offenses.” In 2016, the ACLU released a report noting that veterans who have served the country as lawful permanent residents have been “subject to draconian immigration laws that reclassified many minor offenses as deportable crimes, and were effectively banished from this country.”
There have also been moves at the state level to prevent law enforcement from documenting misdemeanor drug crimes and therefore exposing immigrants to harsh deportation proceedings. The New York State Assembly passed legislation that creates a process for sealing the criminal records of people arrested for simple possession of marijuana in public view, providing a measure of protection for immigrants by making it difficult or impossible for immigration authorities to meet their legal burden of proof for a judge to find a lawful permanent resident deportable. Often these arrests were the result of stop-and-frisk encounters targeting young people of color, and immigrant New Yorkers with minor records have already been deported by ICE under the Trump Administration’s crackdown.