Despite her status as an immigrant, Maria Reimers made every effort to follow protocol. She married a U.S. citizen, obtained a green card, and lawfully entered the country. Ephrata is a tiny town in Washington state, yet she and her husband were able to operate a little storefront there.
However, Reimers was refused U.S. citizenship in 2017 due to her lack of “good moral character.” Her job was labelled as “illicit drug trafficking” by federal immigration officials due to the fact that her partner’s Ephrata firm deals in cannabis that is legal in Pennsylvania. Their store has jeopardised Reimers’ aspirations of becoming a citizen, even though it is legal in Washington state. Her attorney advised her against visiting her family in El Salvador due to the risk of being imprisoned at the border upon her return, even though she gets to keep her green card.
“We failed to consider the potential outcomes of becoming involved or the impact of federal law on our operations,” Reimers stated. I’ve spent the better part of two decades here. What gives me the moral fibre to become a citizen, even while I’m making a positive impact on the nation? Would you say it’s fair?”
Many immigrants in states where cannabis is legal can relate to Reimers’ annoyance. Although marijuana is still illegal on a federal level, the federal government has mostly turned a blind eye to the growing cannabis sector as states have legalised sales since 2014. Deportation, lifelong prohibitions from legitimate permanent residency, and citizenship denial are among the many consequences that immigrants continue to confront.
Estimating how many legal immigrants could be affected by the programme is challenging.Companies in the cannabis sector do not keep records of the number of immigrants working for them, and neither does the federal authorities.A report from 2022 from the Bureau of Labour Statistics states that foreign-born workers constitute approximately 18% of the U.S. workforce. Although noncitizen workers make up a small portion of that category, there are probably thousands of immigrants like Reimers who could face immigration implications as a result of their employment.
Senators and activists from states that have legalised cannabis have reached out to President Joe Biden, who has exhibited some leniency towards the drug on occasion, for assistance. In October 2022, Biden issued an executive order directing agencies to reconsider the classification of cannabis and offering pardons to individuals with federal convictions for simple possession. The US Department of Health and Human Services suggested in August that it be reclassified from Schedule I, which is reserved for very addictive substances without any valid medical purpose, to Schedule III, which is a less dangerous category. The final decision is now with the Drug Enforcement Administration, and they have not yet announced a date for when they will make it.
Migrant workers like Reimers are at risk of deportation because the Department of Homeland Security has not altered its approach to evaluating cannabis cases during immigration proceedings, which has persisted under the Biden administration.
According to Kathy Brady, head of the California-based organisation Immigrant Legal Resource Centre, “just an interpretation (of the law)” would be the rationale behind the denial of citizenship or lawful permanent residency for legal marijuana work. She stated that one thing the administration may do is alter their interpretation, specifically for those employed by the legal profession. “I speak with a lot of individuals who are being severely harmed by this.”
According to that reading, there is a huge difference between the American coworkers and bosses who are involved in a thriving business and the immigrants who are branded as criminals.
No civil or criminal penalties for ‘drug trafficking’ fall on the executives of these [cannabis] corporations, or even any of the U.S. citizen employees; the only enforcement targets are immigrant workers’, the Immigrant Legal Resource Centre wrote in a response to Biden’s pardons in October 2022. (Apologies for the delay in a response from the White House regarding this article.)
Interruptingly, the Reimers have taken legal action by suing USCIS in response to Maria’s rejection. After losing an appeal in 2022, the denial was upheld again in July by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. They appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States in October. The court has not yet decided to consider the case.
They claim that the federal government is not protecting Reimers from the consequences of breaking cannabis prohibitions to the same extent that it protects citizens. However, according to the courts, the federal government is treating the Reimers in accordance with what is now required by law and policy for non-citizens.
The senior senators from Oregon and Washington, who are concerned about the far-reaching effects of these laws on immigration, have urged Biden to relax them.
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) voiced his opposition to the imposition of criminal immigration sanctions on those who use cannabis lawfully inside their states or who work for companies licenced by their states. “I stand with those who are demanding that the government take administrative action to rectify these disparities, and I will keep working to pass laws that will finally update our antiquated federal drug policy.”