Wilner & O'Reilly, APLC
One Practice. One Focus. One Passion: Immigration Law.

Mixed results on California drug bills for immigrants

According to reports, California Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed one new bill that provides some protection for immigrants charged with drug offenses, while he vetoed another. The result is that immigrants will enjoy more protections, but they will still face the possibility of their offenses triggering deportation and removal proceedings.

Under federal law, a conviction for a drug offense can trigger deportation proceedings, even for immigrants who hold green cards. The main problem in California is that immigrants thus face greater potential penalties if they choose to enter the state's drug diversion program. The drug diversion program requires a guilty plea for people to participate in it. That guilty plea is later withdrawn and the case is dismissed if the participant successfully completes the program.

Under federal law, a person who enters a guilty plea to participate in the diversion program is still counted as having a conviction on their record. They thus may be subject to deportation and removal proceedings, even though their case is later dismissed. Gov. Brown indicated his veto of one bill, in which a guilty plea would not first be required, was due to his concern that people would have no incentive for completing diversion. If a person is unsuccessful in the program, their guilty plea is entered and they are then sentenced. Critics of his decision point out that the bill would have incentivized success for immigrants by removing the potential for deportation, however.

Immigrants who are facing drug charges may need to consult with immigration attorneys about their case. A criminal conviction may result in their being deported, even if they are a lawful permanent resident or someone who has lived in the U.S. for many years.

Source: Human Rights Watch, "California: Partial Drug Reform Victory for Immigrants, Governor Signs One Bill, Vetoes Other," Oct. 9, 2015.

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