California Wants Immigrants Charged for Drugs to Get Treatment Without Deportation

By McCarton Ackerman 04/14/15

The proposal would allow offenders to complete treatment and avoid entering a guilty plea.

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California is looking to address the drastic difference between laws at the state and federal level when it comes to immigrants charged with minor drug crimes. The state is considering a new measure, which would allow immigrants to enter drug treatment without running the risk of deportation.

Although California wipes away minor drug charges once a defendant completes drug treatment, the same convictions still stand under federal immigration law for those without legal papers and those with green cards. The new proposal will let those charged with drug possession or similar low-level, nonviolent drug-related crimes to enter treatment before entering a plea. Completing treatment would mean they wouldn’t have to enter a guilty plea, while those who failed or dropped out would face criminal proceedings.

“For those who want to get treatment and get their life right, we should see that with open arms, not see it as a way of deporting somebody," said the bill’s author, assemblyman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton).

The Human Rights Watch noted that 500,000 people across the country who had a drug offense as their most serious conviction were deported between 1997 and 2012. Although the new proposal would not apply to anyone with a history of drug sales or violent crimes, it’s still receiving plenty of pushback from some people.

"What is the public interest for the state of California to allow illegal alien drug offenders to walk away from prosecution and deportation?" asked Jessica Vaughn, of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Sean Hoffman, a lobbyist for the California District Attorneys Association, also spoke out against the policy because letting people enter drug treatment before giving a plea is “more labor intensive for prosecutors ... if the defendant fails [in treatment], we’re trying to track down witnesses and evidence” months after the crime occurred.

California has been going to great lengths in recent months to keep nonviolent drug offenders out of the prison system. Last November, the state approved Proposition 47, which reduced drug possession charges to a misdemeanor. The policy change could affect 40,000 felony charges in the past year and also has a direct impact on the prison system. Up to 10,000 state inmates could apply for resentencing with the new classification and many serving time in county jail could be released immediately.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.