Immigrants working in the cannabis industry may be denied US citizenship because of their jobs. This comes after hemp was legalized since December last year through Farm Bill 2018, and 10 states broadly allowing its use and sale.
The Trump administration released an announcement this week that marijuana users and workers in the cannabis industry ‘may not be fit’ to be granted a Green card even if marijuana use is legal where they live.
“We issued policy guidance clarifying that naturalization applicants must comply w/federal controlled substance laws, including those pertaining to marijuana, to establish good moral character during the naturalization application process,” as stated in some parts of the announcement.
As per clarification of a federal immigration agency on Friday, pot use or any other cannabis-related ‘activities’ is an ‘immoral offense’ that is sufficient grounds for the applicant’s ineligibility for citizenship. This concept has been criticized by scholars and civil rights advocates as the latter argued that morality and immorality are vague and subjective.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) further reinforces a previous idea claiming that ‘good people don’t smoke marijuana,’ a sentiment expressed by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
This announcement was released amidst a separate report that two immigrants from Colorado and Denver, both working in the cannabis industry were denied citizenship because of their work.
Thirty-year-old Oswald Barrientos from El Salvador and another unnamed applicant were just two of the others who are said to have accomplished all requirements and have met all characteristics fit for immigration but were denied citizenship because of their participation in the cannabis industry or use of the substance.
Barrientos said that he had been in the US since 13, and did not anticipate problems with his application as he is fluent in English, has no criminal records, a legal taxpayer and a high school graduate.
However, developments in his citizenship application took a different direction during his interview on November when an immigration official focused more on his job in a state-licensed marijuana grower.
“I was shocked, appalled, sad. It was a mixture of emotions. I had no idea I was going to be in this situation,” he shared remembering how he felt upon receiving a letter rejecting his citizenship application.
Kathy Brady, a senior staff attorney with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center confirmed that Barrientos is just one of a number of legal immigrants working in the marijuana industry who were denied citizenship even in Colorado and Washington state where marijuana is legal.
“Even if you have had a green card for 20 years, you had better not work in any aspect of this industry and you better not use marijuana,” Brady said.
Deborah Cannon, a spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services defended the agency saying that it must follow federal laws that prevent cannabis use or sale.
In an interview, Drug Policy Alliance’s Michael Collins said that USCIS is “using the war on drugs to go after migrant community and that’s what they’ve been doing since day one.”
There is only one exception to this rule. Based on an updated policy, immigrants who had a history of “a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana,” or those involved in “paraphernalia offenses” might be granted neutralization.
USCIS considered the announcement as a ‘policy guidance’ for immigrants and immigration standards by the Trump administration. It contains ‘immigration consequences’ that may be applied to people involved in immigrant possessing, distributing, dispensing, or the manufacturing of cannabis.
The ‘policy guidance’ also defines good moral character as something measured “up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides.”