Immigrants deported on cannabis charges unfairly excluded from Biden pardon, advocates say

Immigrants deported on cannabis charges unfairly excluded from Biden pardon, advocates say

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden announced pardons for nearly 6,500 Americans convicted on federal marijuana possession charges, part of an executive order aimed at eventually decriminalizing simple marijuana possession.

"As I often said during my campaign for president, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana," he said.

Immigration advocates say pardons should also be granted to undocumented immigrants who were not only incarcerated, but also deported on cannabis charges after spending most of their lives working and living in the United States.

This coming week, more than 130 advocacy groups, including the National Immigration Project, say they plan to send a letter to Biden calling for the inclusion of refugees, asylum seekers and visa holders with marijuana convictions.

"​​Moving forward, we urge you to ensure that every step taken to remedy racial injustice includes relief to impacted immigrant communities," the organizations say they will write. "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."

PHOTO: Executive director of the National Immigration Project Sirine Shebaya (center) says in order for this initiative to be inclusive, marijuana needs to be removed from the Controlled Substances Act. (Courtesy Sirine Shebaya)
PHOTO: Executive director of the National Immigration Project Sirine Shebaya (center) says in order for this initiative to be inclusive, marijuana needs to be removed from the Controlled Substances Act. (Courtesy Sirine Shebaya)

MORE: Biden announces pardons for thousands convicted of federal marijuana possession

The letter follows their 2021 call for a legislative remedy for the 48,000 immigrants who were deported for federal marijuana possession between 2003 and 2020, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

"The pardon explicitly excludes all categories of immigrants except for people who are lawful permanent residents," Executive Director of the National Immigration Project Sirine Shebaya told ABC News. "The [Biden] administration really should be much more actively ensuring that immigrants are not left out of initiatives like this."

"Immigration laws specify that controlled substance offense grounds of deportation cannot be waived by pardons," Shebaya said. "What really is needed is for marijuana to be completely de-scheduled and taken out of the Controlled Substances Act and also for there to be clarity that immigration consequences should never flow from marijuana convictions."

A White House response to ABC News did not directly address their demands in the still unsent letter.

"The President's full, unconditional pardon is the first categorical pardon in 45 years and will bring relief to thousands of Americans, disproportionately Black and brown, who are unfairly barred from housing, employment, and benefits," said White House assistant press secretary Kevin Munoz in a statement. " It also builds on his historic acts of clemency in April – earlier than any of his five predecessors. And, together with the work to review how marijuana is scheduled, the President has kept his word with real and unprecedented action for a fairer criminal justice system."

Over the past six years, the Immigration Court received Notices to Appear for nearly 26,000 people people regarding controlled substance-related violations. These violations, which include marijuana convictions due to the Controlled Substances Act under immigration law, account for some of the largest numbers of deportations.

The National Immigration Project, in partnership with advocacy groups, including the National Immigrant Justice Center, Immigrant Legal Resource Center and the Drug Policy Alliance are pushing for the New Way Forward Act, which would remove legislative barriers that currently prevent Black and brown communities from receiving pardons.

"There's also these … legislatively made-up categories that immigration has separate from the criminal justice system that really limits the relief that people can get if they have criminal history," immigration attorney and Associate Director of Advocacy for the Southern Poverty Law Center Mich González told ABC News.

The bill aims to eliminate grounds for removal such as a "crime involving moral turpitude" category, which advocates say is weaponized against those convicted for marijuana possession under federal immigration law, according to González.

PHOTO: Alex Murillo on the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana/San Ysidro circa 2016. (Courtesy Alex Murillo)
PHOTO: Alex Murillo on the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana/San Ysidro circa 2016. (Courtesy Alex Murillo)

MORE: Senate Democrats unveil long-awaited marijuana legalization bill

U.S. Navy veteran Alex Murillo was deported for a cannabis offense in 2012. He was not afforded access to drug rehabilitation or halfway house programs promised to similar veterans with green cards.

Murillo spent over a decade in Rosarito, Mexico, a country he never knew.

During that time, he took part in the Leave No One Behind Mural Project to express his story through art. On the U.S.-Mexico border wall, Murillo and others painted a mural of an upside-down American flag -- modeled after a ship signaling for assistance -- as part of their call for help for all deported veterans regardless of charges against them. Included are the names of deported veterans from Mexico, Jamaica, Canada, Italy, African countries, and various others.

"It's not a sign of disrespect," Murillo told ABC News. "It means help us, SOS, help us, and that's what we're asking for there at the border."

MORE: Border apprehensions exceed 2 million this year: Enforcement increases as GOP buses migrants elsewhere

After returning back to the United States on humanitarian parole to treat his PTSD and help his mother through her kidney illness, Murillo reflects on a decision made for him over a decade ago separating him from his family and life.

PHOTO: Alex Murillo is seen (right) standing front of the mural project dedicated to deported veterans. (Courtesy Alex Murillo)
PHOTO: Alex Murillo is seen (right) standing front of the mural project dedicated to deported veterans. (Courtesy Alex Murillo)

"I'm a veteran, I should have been protected," Murillo told ABC News. "Cannabis is one of the things that helps to treat veterans with PTSD."

His fight for citizenship and the return of men and women similarly exiled after serving their country continues.

"Our nation is not about exclusion," Murillo said. "I want that feeling of reunification, that feeling of joy."

Immigrants deported on cannabis charges unfairly excluded from Biden pardon, advocates say originally appeared on abcnews.go.com