Drug Crimes and Green Card Holders

In general, once you hold a green card (U.S. lawful permanent residency), deportation is relatively unlikely in practice despite there being many grounds for deportation See Section 237 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.).

However, drug crimes hold a special place in the heart of our government, and the bar is low for deportation.  Therefore it is absolutely critical that if you are a green card holder you never possess any type of controlled substance, other than small quantities of cannabis when you  may encounter law enforcement.

Specific Drug-Related Grounds of Deportability

Here's a summary of the specific drug offenses that may make a person deportable:

  • Conviction of an offense relating to a controlled substance (other than a single offense involving possession for one's own use of 30 grams or less of cannabis). This can include conspiracy or an attempt to possess, distribute, or manufacture a controlled substance.
  • Having been a drug abuser or addict at any time after entering the U.S. (note that you don't need to have been criminally charged for this one).
  • An aggravated felony, which can include drug trafficking or illicit trafficking in a controlled substance.

No Waiver Available

Crimes involving possession of controlled substances and drug trafficking do not come with any possible waiver for the offending individual. (A waiver is a request to the USCIS to overlook the offense and allow you to keep your visa or green card anyway.)

An Arrest without Conviction May Cause Deportation

For most crimes an immigrant becomes either deportable from the U.S. or ineligible for U.S. citizenship only after the immigrant has actually been convicted of the crime (most likely by either pleading guilty or being found guilty in court). But that’s not true of drug crimes.

The USCIS can deny citizenship if it has “reason to believe” that you have engaged in drug trafficking or are a habitual drunkard or a drug addict or abuser. An arrest for a related offense may, by itself, give USCIS such grounds for belief. The USCIS examiner would simply decide that you hadn’t shown the good moral character required for citizenship.

The Law of Deportation

As of early 2018, the specific code section for deportation relating to controlled substances reads:

Controlled substances.
(i) Conviction.  Any alien who at any time after admission has been convicted of a violation of (or a conspiracy or attempt to violate) any law or regulation of a State, the United States, or a foreign country relating to a controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802)), other than a single offense involving possession for one's own use of 30 grams or less of marijuana, is deportable.
(ii) Drug abusers and addicts.  Any alien who is, or at any time after admission has been, a drug abuser or addict is deportable.

Disclaimer:  We are not attorneys and nothing in this article should be considered legal advice.  Please contact an attorney for further information and do your own research, including reading the statutes linked in this article.