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US based Caribbean families torn apart by drug deportations – report

Published:Sunday | June 21, 2015 | 10:44 AM

LOS ANGELES, CMC -– A major human rights group here says thousands of Caribbean families in the United States have been torn apart in recent years by detention and deportation for drug offenses.

In it's latest report Human Rights Watch said that disproportionately harsh laws and policies relating to drug offenses can lead to deportation for lawful permanent Caribbean and other residents and unauthorized immigrants alike.

The 93-page report, “A Price too high : US Families torn apart by deportations for drug offenceses,” documents how the US regularly places legal residents and other immigrants with strong ties to US families into deportation proceedings for drug offenses.

Often, those offenses are decades old or so minor they resulted in little or no prison time, the report says.

Deportations after convictions for drug possession in particular have spiked, increasing 43 per cent from 2007 to 2012, according to US government data obtained by Human Rights Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The report is based on more than 130 interviews with affected immigrants, families, attorneys, and law enforcement officials, as well as new data obtained from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Deportations of non-citizens with drug convictions, and especially with drug possession convictions, increased significantly from 2007 to 2012, the report says.

In addition to the 43 per cent increase in deportations after convictions for drug possession during that period, the report says deportations after convictions for sales, smuggling, manufacture, or trafficking increased 23 per cent.

For more than 34,000 deported non-citizens, the most serious conviction was for marijuana possession, according to the report.

Human Rights Watch said it requested information on the immigration status of deported non-citizens in its Freedom of Information Act, but said ICE, in its response, claimed not to keep such records. Human Rights Watch said an appeal is pending.

Under US immigration law, expunged or pardoned drug convictions can still result in deportation, according to Human Rights Watch.

It said drug offenses also bar non-citizens from gaining lawful resident status, even if they have close family relationships with US citizens that would otherwise qualify them for green cards.

Although it is possible for a non-citizen to apply for a waiver for offenses such as assault or fraud if they can show a US citizen family member would suffer extreme hardship if the non-citizen could not gain legal resident status, the only waiver possible for drug offenses is for a single conviction for possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana, Human Rights Watch said.

The human rights organisation has urged states ensure that reforms to reduce criminal penalties for drug offenses and facilitate rehabilitation for those with drug dependency are designed to allow non-citizens to benefit as well.