Although most people know that there are severe immigration consequences for serious drug violations, many would be surprised to know that even relatively minor use of illicit drugs can destroy one’s eligibility for many immigration benefits. The following questions and answers to common questions are provided in order to illustrate the fact that, for immigration purposes at least, there is no such thing as a “harmless drug.”
Q. Fifteen years ago, when I was a college student, I tried marijuana on two occasions. What would happen if I admitted these indiscretions during the physical exam prior to my visa interview or at the visa interview?
A. Believe it or not, statements made during the physical examination prior to one’s visa interview may be used to deny an application for a visa. Applicants are routinely asked about drug use during their physical exam, and are even tested for such use. Although a consular official must follow certain procedures before obtaining an admission from an intending immigrant, no such rules apply during the physical exam. An admission of illicit drug use, no matter when such use occurred, may bar one from the United States forever.
Any violation of any law or regulation of a State, the United States, or a foreign country relating to a controlled substance (as defined by federal law) may render an individual inadmissible to the United States. For example, marijuana use violates Section 8 of the Philippine Dangerous Drug Act of 1972. A waiver is available for a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana where the immigrant’s inadmissibility would result in extreme hardship to a US citizen or lawfully resident parent, spouse, son or daughter. However, this waiver is not available in cases where there are two violations, even if there was never a conviction or even an arrest. As a result, the honest admission of having experimented with marijuana on more than one occasion fifteen years ago may result in being barred from admission to the United States for the rest of your one’s life.
Q. I am a lawful permanent resident of the United States. Since becoming a resident, I have twice been convicted for possession of drugs, once for marijuana and once for cocaine. What will happen if the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services learns of my record?
A. Lawful permanent residents who are convicted of violating any law pertaining to controlled substances, other than a single offense of possession of thirty grams or less of marijuana, is deportable. There is little in the way of relief from deportation for individuals with a history of drug convictions. However, under the Federal First Offender Act, it is possible that certain individuals who have one, and only one, conviction for simple possession of an illicit drug other than marijuana will also be able to stay in the United States. For an individual with two drug convictions, there is no defense available under United States immigration law.
The Government usually learns of these convictions in two situations: when a lawful permanent resident returns from a trip abroad or when he or she attempts to become a citizen, often after having the offenses expunged from one’s record. In most cases, expungements do not remove these offenses from one’s record for immigration purposes, although post-conviction relief is available in certain cases. The Government will not only deny admission or naturalization to an individual with drug convictions, but it can and will place the individual in removal proceedings.
All of us are human and have made mistakes in the past. For those with a history of drug use or convictions, these mistakes can be costly. If you or your family member has any drug convictions, it is vital that you seek advice from a knowledgeable immigration attorney prior to applying for any immigration benefit.