Weed is legal in some states of America and forbidden at in others. Yet it’s the reason an undocumented Iowa youth is in jail and could be sent to Mexico.
The picture of the pungent scent and smoke of weed mingled with that of jerk chicken on the grill in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights on Labor Day during New York’s annual Caribbean Carnival Parade. As steel bands and reggae music played from floats, a man worked a sidewalk hawking small clumps of marijuana from a Styrofoam take-out box. This is the picture of ordinary life. The picture that characterize the city soul in one way, like urban life.
You can find it hilarious because New York is not one of the nine U.S. states, including the District of Columbia, to have legalized recreational marijuana use. But if the many police officers there noticed its presence, they weren’t bothered at all.
Back in Des Moines, a 19-year-old spent 5 months in jail after he was caught with a lump of pot of about one gram — about the size of two bottle caps. and now he faces deportation to Mexico for that.
This is the example where we can see the politics of marijuana meets the debate over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. As you know, that’s the Obama-era policy of granting temporary legal status for immigrants who were brought here as children by their parents, if they apply and meet age and other criteria. But newly chosen President Donald Trump announced last week he would end the program unless Congress acts. And it won’t be the first “end” for such programs that was established by Barack Obama as he was President.
Video from USA Today — “We break down what DACA is and what it could mean for thousands of immigrants.” USA TODAY
Luis Quintana Alvarez, who came to the U.S. with his mother and siblings when he was just 11 months old, was granted DACA status. Then a year ago, he was riding in a car to Ames with his cousin when they were stopped for high speed on the road. Police found a gram of marijuana (worth about $10, according to online prices) in his car.
Quintana and his attorney, Ta-Yu Yang, say he claimed the pot was his to protect his cousin, a U.S. citizen, because of a risk being kicked out of college. Quintana, who had just turned 18, thought he’d get off easier because of his age.
The court decision was a year of probation, but triggered federal involvement because of his DACA status. That was revoked. He was slated for deportation and denied bail.
Quintana appealed, arguing a gram of marijuana is not a serious controlled-substance crime as defined by immigration law.
People are ineligible for DACA if they’ve been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor or multiple misdemeanors. But advocate Yang says the Immigration and Naturalization Act makes an exception for possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana.
But the appeal was rejected!
Advocate Yang then filed for asylum on Quintana’s behalf, which requires convincing a judge someone would face persecution in the homeland because of race, religion, nationality, political opinions or membership in a particular social group. Quintana’s claim is based on a novel argument: that having been a DACA recipient would make him a target for violence and exploitation in Mexico. And this is make sense.
Quintana says it would identify him as someone who had residence and family ties in the United States because Mexican drug cartels are known to target people with U.S. ties for kidnap and ransom demands. Yang says there’s not yet a record of that happening because DACA kids have not been deported before this case.
But an immigration judge in Omaha late last month rejected that claim, ruling that DACA doesn’t qualify as a social group. As we can see this story with no end now, but it’s too clear to see how the policy of nationalities depends on someone’s mind.It is a big mistake have thoughts like this.
In October 2016 another Mexican national, Constantino Morales, was deported from Des Moines and shot to death by a cartel in Mexico.
Quintana is American by all obvious measures except his passport. If deported to Mexico, Quintana says: “My world would just be over,” he said by phone from the jail Thursday. “…I would feel like a foreigner because I’ve been here in America all my life. I pledged allegiance from kindergarten to 12th grade.”
Despite his ruling, the judge found Quintana “sincere, responsive and forthright.” Also testifying for him were his mother, twin brother and sister, who are both students at Iowa State University, and a friend.
His mother, who works as a housekeeper and asked not to be identified, told she is so anxious and depressed about her son’s arrest that she is barely able to breathe. Speaking through an interpreter, she said Quintana was the victim of physical and sexual abuse by his father, and that left him with anxiety and insecurities. The father also abused her and the other children, she said. He left the family when Quintana was 3 and hasn’t been heard from since.
Quintana said he still suffers emotionally from the abuse. His mother sent him for counseling when he was younger, “but I never opened up to any counselor. I just had so many walls built up.” He said he had fallen in with a bad crowd but isn’t friends with them anymore. He has long dreamed of playing professional soccer but lately has also been considering law.
His advocate, Yang, is appealing the latest denial to the Board of Immigration Appeals.
Quintana said he has seen people bond out despite much more serious crimes or long criminal histories.
“I really don’t understand how they could want to deport me, who has been here all his life, over a small amount of marijuana,” he said.
There is no normal explanation, other than that he’s a casualty of immigration politics. Congress needs to pass immigration reform. Meanwhile, let’s hope the next judge shows independent judgment, recognizes Luis Alvarez Quintana has been through enough, and gives him the chance to build a life free from fear in the place he has always known as home named USA.