Los Angeles-based immigration attorneys at Fong & Aquino have received a recent string of consultations from the Palm Springs and Inland Empire area involving the immigration consequences of drug convictions.
One individual is a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) who was convicted in 2000 for possession of drug paraphernalia. The conviction did not come to the government's attention until the gentleman returned from a vacation abroad and he re-entered the United States. The Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") has placed him into removal proceedings, charging that he had been convicted of a controlled substance offense.
Another man recently walked in with a Notice to Appear in which the DHS alleged that he entered the United States in 1965. "That's wonderful!", I thought, "I've got one of the few people in America that is eligible for registry." My excitement waned when I discovered that the man had a conviction for possession of drugs in the 1980s.
The Immigration and Nationality Act does contain a "petty offense exception" which waives the consequences of a minor crime if the sentence of imprisonment did not exceed six months and the conviction carries a maximum sentence of one year or less. Unfortunately, neither of the above individuals can avail themselves of the exemption because it does not apply to drug convictions, no matter how minor.
There are other avenues of relief in the immigration court that we have been pursuing to help these two individuals. But the moral of the story is: if you are not a U.S. citizen, stay away from illegal drugs -- probably good practice for U.S. citizens too. However, if you do have an old conviction on your record, you should consult with an immigration attorney before you leave the United States or before you file for any benefits from the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services. --ra