Trump Administration Seeks to Deny Undocumented Immigrants Asylum for Certain Cannabis Offenses

A notice from federal agencies proposes that those seeking asylum in the country with certain drug offenses, including cannabis charges, will be denied protection by the U.S. government.

A notice from two federal agencies is proposing a change in regulations governing what terms would bar immigrants from asylum.

“Both possessors and traffickers of controlled substances pose a direct threat to the public health and safety interests of the United States, and they should not be entitled to the benefit of asylum,” the notice’s authors wrote. “The harmful effects of controlled substance offenses have been recognized consistently by policymakers and courts.”

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a public notice on Dec. 19 regarding a proposed change in U.S. rules on barring immigrants from receiving asylum. The notice was signed by Attorney General William Barr and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.

The proposed bar would apply to undocumented immigrants who are convicted of various misdemeanor and felony offenses, including “the possession or trafficking of a controlled substance or controlled-substance paraphernalia.” The notice does contain a “limited exception” to the proposed bar for convictions involving a single offense of possession for private use of up to 30 grams of cannabis.

Under federal law, cannabis remains on the federal list of controlled substances, although most states in the country have legalized the plant for medicinal or recreational use. The notice also argues that any felony could be considered a “serious crime” and would be grounds for a bar on asylum.

The agencies argue that the proposed policy would be consistent with current immigration rules, which say that those who consume legal medical cannabis or work in the legal cannabis industry lack the “moral character” necessary to have their naturalization application approved.

In an interview with Marijuana Moment, Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno argued, “If the administration really wanted to further public health and security, it should roll back drug war policies that help to fuel the violence and corruption that drive so many people to the southern US border.”

The federal agencies have invited the public to share their opinions or arguments on the proposed change via a 30-day public comment period. The agencies specifically “seek public comment on how to differentiate among controlled substance offenses.”

Find out more about how to submit comments, here. The deadline to submit is Jan. 21, 2020.

Seeking Asylum in the U.S.

According to the U.S. government, “asylum is a discretionary immigration benefit that generally can be sought by eligible aliens who are physically present or arriving in the United States, irrespective of their status.”

Approximately 26,568 individuals were granted asylum by the U.S. DHS and DOJ in 2017, according to the U.S. Office of Immigration Statistics. It’s worth noting that asylum seekers are different from those considered refugees.

According to the Dec. 19 notice, in the last 10 years there has been an average of 38,000 total asylum application completions annually. The new proposal is to amend a section of federal regulation titled 8 CFR part 208.

In addition to possession of a federally controlled substance, six other proposed reasons to bar asylum for immigrants are listed in the notice. Those include gang activity, driving under the influence, domestic violence, false identification, among other stipulations.

“The Departments now propose to establish additional bars to eligibility for asylum for aliens with certain criminal convictions; clarify the effect of criminal convictions; and remove the regulations regarding reconsideration of discretionary denials of asylum,” the notice’s authors wrote.

Marijuana News

Follow the development of the new proposed regulations on asylum seekers by checking back in at our cannabis news page. There you can also find the latest reports on cannabis policy, business, and scientific research.