Dear President Biden:
We welcome your decision to pardon federal convictions for marijuana possession as a much needed first step toward mitigating the harm “war on drugs” and “war on crime” policies have imposed on Black and Brown families. However, as organizations working on racial justice, human rights, and immigrant rights issues, we are grimly disappointed at the explicit exclusion of many immigrants and at the absence of affirmative measures to ensure that all immigrants get meaningful relief from the immigration consequences that can follow marijuana convictions.
Cutting people out of criminal policy reforms simply because of their place of birth casts a shadow over the White House’s efforts to address the over-policing and mass incarceration of Black and Brown communities. Moving forward, we urge you to ensure that every step taken to remedy racial injustice includes relief to impacted immigrant communities. In particular, we urge you to extend protection to all immigrants, regardless of immigration status, and to take necessary steps to ensure that immigrants do not suffer negative immigration consequences from marijuana convictions.
You rooted the October 6th proclamation in the pursuit of racial equity, noting that “Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.” Yet you exclude Black and Brown immigrants facing the same structural racism as U.S. citizens. The announcement accompanying the proclamation also notes that pardons will relieve the collateral consequences resulting from marijuana-related convictions, including barriers to employment, housing, or educational opportunities. Yet immigration detention and deportation are also consequences that flow from marijuana-related convictions, consequences left unaddressed by your proclamation.
The proclamation leaves immigrants behind in two primary ways. First, it applies only to people who are currently citizens or lawful permanent residents, casting aside undocumented immigrants and other lawfully present immigrants such as refugees and asylees. Second, although full and unconditional pardons by the President should have the legal effect of removing the immigration consequences of marijuana possession convictions, immigration prosecutors and judges will likely ignore the pardon’s effect in deportation proceedings.