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The Consequences of a Drug Conviction for Non-U.S. Citizens

Foreign nationals, permanent residents, and other classes of immigrants in the United States face harsh penalties if convicted of drug charges. The U.S. is tough on drugs, and even tougher when non-U.S. citizens are involved. We have developed this guide to provide an overview of the immigration-related consequences you face with a drug conviction, the consequences of specific types of drug charges, and how to fight deportation based on drug charges.

Potential Immigration-related Consequences of a Drug Conviction

The consequences you might face for a drug conviction depend on your legal status as a non-U.S. citizen and your specific drug-related crime. They include:

  • Mandatory deportation
  • Possible deportation, and/or
  • Inadmissibility to the United States

When courts deem non-citizens inadmissible after a drug conviction, they have the following restrictions:

  • They cannot legally re-enter the United States after they leave.
  • They can never become a U.S. Citizen.
  • They can never apply for a Green Card, a.k.a. permanent resident status.
  • They can never apply to adjust their status from illegal to legal.

If a non-citizen came to the United States legally, courts typically do not automatically deport him or her after a drug conviction. Instead, courts rule them inadmissible. In practice, it has the same impact because if the non-citizen ever leaves the country, he or she cannot return.

Controlled Substances that Lead to Deportation

Federal law categorizes drugs as controlled substances that fall into one of five groups, referred to as schedules. Each schedule contains a variety of drugs—illegal and legal. Everything from marijuana to heroin to crystal meth and in between is listed on one of the schedules. You will also find legal drugs that doctors prescribe such as painkillers, on the schedules. The government must prove that your drug charges involved one of the controlled substances on the federal schedules for you to suffer mandatory deportation or inadmissibility.

Specific Drug Crimes that Lead to Deportation

The extent of your drug charges influences the likelihood of possible or mandatory removal from the United States. Drug abusers, drug addicts, and any crime involving a controlled substance can possibly result in deportation. For example, less than 30 grams of marijuana for personal use typically does not result in deportation after the first offense.

Mandatory Removal

If a drug conviction includes any of the following circumstances, you face mandatory deportation as well as inadmissibility to the United States:

  • You are charged with an aggravated felony. The circumstances that make a charge aggravated vary. Examples include drug crimes that include the use of a deadly weapon or repeated offenses. An aggravated felony drug conviction also prohibits you from asylum relief, cancellation of removal, or the ability to reapply for entry based on hardship.
  • You have been convicted of two or more crimes with combined prison sentences over five years.
  • You are charged with a drug crime involving moral turpitude that you committed within five years of your arrival in the United States that carries a minimum one-year sentence. Moral turpitude is the notion that a crime is morally wrong and doesn’t live up to social standards. Drug possession charges typically are not crimes involving moral turpitude, but many other drug-related crimes are.

Deportation for the Possession and Personal Use of Drugs

The United States doesn’t usually deport drug addicts and those who abuse drugs, but you have a better chance of avoiding deportation if you complete a drug treatment program. Louisiana is one of the states that has a pre-trial diversion program. These programs require those with drug charges to complete a substance abuse program prior to going in front of a judge. The prosecutor drops the charges after successfully completing the program. However, once you are found guilty or accept a plea deal for a drug charge, you risk deportation even if you’ve completed a substance abuse treatment program.

The simple possession of a small amount of drugs is not an aggravated felony punished by more than a year of jail time, so you will avoid mandatory deportation. The exception to this rule is Rohypnol, commonly called the date rape drug. In other cases, judges have discretion on whether to deport you. Each case is different and each judge is different, making it necessary to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible if you are a non-U.S. citizen who has been charged with possession of a controlled substance.

Possessing drug paraphernalia also does not typically result in deportation. Prosecutors need to prove that the paraphernalia is connected to specific drugs you had in possession.

Impact of a Vacated, Expunged, or Pardoned Drug Conviction

If you are fortunate enough to have your drug conviction vacated or expunged from your permanent record, it removes the penalties that come with the conviction; however, it does not remove the consequences you face for immigration status. The law makes an exception to this rule if your Constitutional Rights were violated during the legal process. A full pardon from Louisiana’s governor or the governor in the state where you reside is the only way to reverse removal and/or inadmissibility.

How a Lawyer Can Help You Fight Deportation After Drug Charges

Experienced immigration attorneys can help you fight deportation after you’ve been charged or convicted with a drug-related crime. Some examples of strategies they might employ include:

  • Fight to get the charges dropped
  • Fight to suppress damning evidence
  • Fight to get the judge to dismiss charges
  • Appealing a conviction
  • Negotiating a plea to a lower charge that has fewer immigration consequences
  • Fight to dismiss the removal order in U.S. immigration court
  • Appeal a removal order to the Board of Immigration Appeals

Contact an Experienced Immigration Attorney After Drug Charges

If you’ve been convicted of drug-related charges, you face harsh consequences that can include deportation. Making a plea deal is a dangerous proposition if you want to stay in the United States. For the best chances of avoiding removal, you need to contact an experienced immigration attorney who can guide advocate for you and guide you through the criminal legal process. The skilled attorneys Stephenson, Chávarri & Dawson have been advocating for non-U.S. citizens facing deportation for decades. Contact us today online or at 504-523-6496 to discuss your drug charges and learn the best course of action for your individual circumstances.

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