With 40,000 People Getting Deported for Drug Law Violations Annually, Pressure Mounts for Humane Reforms
WASHINGTON, DC – The United States Supreme Court ruled today in Mellouli v. Lynch, Attorney General that an immigrant could not be deported for possession of a sock, which under Kansas state law counts as drug paraphernalia when used to contain a controlled substance.
The case involves a lawful permanent resident – a University teacher with advanced degrees in applied mathematics and economics, and engaged to an American citizen – who was convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia after carrying four Adderall pills in his sock. He was sentenced to and successfully completed probation. However, months after his probation ended, he was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as deportable based on the paraphernalia conviction under state law.
Generally, state law convictions for drug possession and distribu¬tion trigger deportation if they involve a federally controlled substance. However, the Board of Immigration Appeals’ interpretation of the law is that paraphernalia possession triggers deportation regardless of whether or not it is related to a federally controlled substance. In the case of Mr. Mellouli, the pills in his sock were on the state list of controlled substances, but not on the federal list. The High Court stated that “The incongruous upshot is that an alien is not removable for possessing a substance controlled only under Kansas law, but he is removable for using a sock to contain that substance. Because it makes scant sense, the BIA’s interpretation, we hold, is owed no deference…”
Roughly 40,000 people are deported every year for drug law violations, about half just for possession. More than one-quarter of a million people have been deported for drug law violations since 2008.
“We applaud the Supreme Court for rejecting the government’s severe interpretation of immigration law and ruling that Mr. Mellouli’s conviction should not trigger deportation,” says Theshia Naidoo, Senior Staff Attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance. “The Court’s ruling recognizes the absurdity of the war on drugs and its devastating impact on immigrants. The time has come to completely overhaul our drug laws and to prevent mass deportation based on minor drug offenses.”
DPA Fact Sheet (Bilingual): The Drug War and Mass Deportation