Should Immigrants Be Deported for a Pinch of Pot?
The Supreme Court hears a case that could stop the deportation of legal immigrants for such minor offenses.
When should an offense like the possession of a tiny amount of marijuana be deemed too minor to warrant the deportation of a legal immigrant? The Supreme Court has been hearing a case today that could change immigration officials' response to this question. It all started in 2008 when Adrian Moncrieffe—who moved to the US from Jamaica almost 30 years ago, and is a lawful permanent resident—was pulled over in Georgia. The police found a mere one 20th of an ounce of pot in his possession. Unfortunately for Moncrieffe, Georgia state law—under its very broad application of "people who freely share small quantities with others"—nevertheless allowed him to be charged with felony possession with intent to distribute. "What some people would consider to be a relatively minor offense that does not result in a prison sentence can be classified under federal law as a felony that can lead to deportation," says Bill Ong Hing, a law professor at the University of San Francisco. "When there's language that suggests that it could be more serious and it's not serious, [US Immigration and Customs Enforcement] will not give you the benefit of the doubt." The Supreme Court’s eventual decision on Moncrieffe v. Holder, which is due in the spring, could affect the deportation proceedings of hundreds of legal immigrants each year.