Immigration 101: Drug Crimes

Drug crimes – even crimes for which you haven’t been convicted, or even charged – can land you in hot water if you are attempting to gain admission to the US, facing removal, or trying to adjust your status. Below, we’ll discuss some of the consequences of drug crimes in the context of immigration law. If you have questions or concerns about how a drug crime might affect your status in the US, feel free to contact our office for more information.

Crimes Relating to Controlled Substances

As a ground of inadmissibility:

If you have ever been convicted of a crime involving a controlled substance, or you admit to conduct that would constitute such a crime, you may be inadmissible. This is true even if the conviction or conduct occurred outside the US. This means that a drug-related crime in your home country may be enough to make you inadmissible. This provision is very broad, and would seem to cover any kind of drug-related offense. However, some very technical legal issues can make it difficult for immigration courts to determine whether a particular conviction qualifies as a crime relating to a controlled substance, even if the crime you committed is actually called “possession of a controlled substance.” The determination depends on the exact language of the criminal statute involved, and the nature of court documents submitted as evidence of the conviction. Therefore, you shouldn’t assume that any drug crime on your record will automatically make you inadmissible.

If you are found inadmissible under this provision, you may be able to avoid removal by seeking a waiver under INA §212(h).

As a ground of removability:

If you have been convicted of a crime relating to a controlled substance, including attempt or conspiracy, you may be removable. This particular ground will only apply if you were convicted after you were admitted to the US (although a conviction that occurred before your admission could make you removable under a different ground). There is an exception to this provision if your conviction involved one count of simple possession of 30 grams of marijuana or less.

As with many criminal removability grounds, there are some very technical legal issues that can prevent a conviction from qualifying as a crime relating to a controlled substance, even if the crime itself was called “possession of a controlled substance.” For example, if the critical court documents in your criminal case did not clearly specify exactly which drug was involved, your conviction might not qualify. Therefore, you shouldn’t assume that any drug conviction would automatically render you deportable.

Drug Abusers and Addicts

           You may be deportable if you become a drug abuser or addict at any point after you are admitted to the US. Technically, you can be found deportable under this provision even if you have never been convicted of any drug-related criminal offense, but even if you have been convicted of such an offense, the government may still have a difficult time demonstrating that you are, in fact, a drug addict or abuser.

Controlled Substance Traffickers

           You are inadmissible if the government knows or has a good reason for believing that you have ever been involved in the illegal trafficking of a controlled substance. This provision is narrower than the provision for crimes relating to controlled substances because it requires involvement in drug trafficking, not just possession or use. However, it’s also broader, because it does not require a criminal conviction. The government only needs to have “reason to believe” that you were engaged in drug trafficking to find you inadmissible. Additionally, if you are the spouse or child or a drug trafficker, and you knowingly benefited from their illegal activities within the last five years, you may be inadmissible.

There are no waivers available if you’re found inadmissible under this provision, but you may be eligible for other forms of relief from removal.

This article is part of our ongoing “Immigration 101” series, in which we break down topics in US immigration law. For more articles in this series, click here.

The content in this post was originally written by Stuart Nickum and adapted by Lena Barouh.


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