Immigrants Working in the Marijuana Industry May Not Be Able to Attain US Citizenship

New guidance from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) states that undocumented immigrants working in the marijuana industry could be prevented from attaining citizenship.Although several states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, those working in the industry who are also undocumented may be ineligible for citizenship because federal law still considers weed to be a “Schedule I” controlled substance — drugs with a “high potential for abuse” such as heroin and LSD. The guidance notes that anyone involved with the manufacture, possession, or distribution of marijuana may be subject to “criminal and immigration consequences.”

“USCIS is issuing policy guidance in the USCIS Policy Manual to clarify that violations of federal controlled substance law, including violations involving marijuana, are generally a bar to establishing good moral character (GMC) for naturalization, even where that conduct would not be an offense under state law,” the agency wrote. The agency noted that people applying for citizenship who are also “involved in certain marijuana related activities may lack GMC if found to have violated federal law,” regardless of whether such activity is legal under state or foreign law. In a statement to The North Star, USCIS stated that it “is required to adjudicate cases based on federal law.”

“Individuals who commit federal controlled substance violations face potential immigration consequences under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which applies to all foreign nationals regardless of the state or jurisdiction in which they reside,” the agency said. “Marijuana remains illegal under federal law as a Schedule I controlled substance regardless of any actions to decriminalize its possession, use, or sale at the state and local level. Federal law does not recognize the decriminalization of marijuana for any purpose, even in places where state or local law does.”

The new guidance comes as the Trump administration leans into its hardline positions on immigration, and amid a shakeup of the Department of Homeland Security's senior ranks. President Donald Trump is also mulling an overhaul of the asylum process and threatening to close the border with Mexico.

This is just one of the many policies the Trump administration has been issuing in its crackdown on immigration. The administration is reportedly pushing a proposal that would double the amount of time asylum seekers will wait before obtaining a work permit to be legally employed in the US. Asylum seekers are currently waiting up to 180 days for a work permit and if the new proposal is approved, the wait time could increase to 365 days.

“To strengthen the integrity of the asylum system, US Citizenship and Immigration Services plans to propose regulatory amendments intended to promote greater accountability in the application process for requesting employment authorization and to deter the fraudulent filing of asylum applications for the purpose of obtaining work authorization,” USCIS Spokeswoman Jessica Collins previously told The North Star. The administration is also reporting on another proposal that would make asylum seekers pay a $50 fee for filing for asylum after they enter the country, but this proposal has not yet been finalized.

The Trump administration is reportedly working on other policies to make the process of admission “more difficult for low-skilled immigrants” and authorizing the government to detain migrant children for longer than 20 days, a senior administration official previously told Axios.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.