Pubdate: Wed, 17 Jun 2015
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2015 The Sacramento Bee
Authors: Angie Junck and Armando Gudino
Note: Angie Junck is a supervising attorney for the Immigrant Legal 
Resource Center. Armando Gudino is a policy manager for the Drug 
Policy Alliance.


America was built on a foundation of second chances. For centuries, 
immigrants from all parts of the world have come to the United States 
for an opportunity to build a better life in a country where 
redemption is reality and where people thrive.

But for communities of color  especially immigrants  that land 
doesn't really exist. Instead, many work for their second chance only 
to have it taken away from them. Our justice and immigration systems 
have evolved in such piecemeal, haphazard ways that enforcement of 
the law is uneven and the protections of the law are unequally 
applied, especially pertaining to drugs and deportations. This is a 
particular problem in California, where half of all children live in 
a household led by at least one foreign-born parent.

According to a new report from Human Rights Watch, deportations of 
non-citizens whose most serious conviction was for a drug offense 
rose 22 percent from 2004 to 2012. That number spiked by 43 percent 
for non-citizens with convictions for simple drug possession in 
particular, regardless of plea deals or successful completion of 
rehabilitation programs. Some were thrown into deportation 
proceedings decades after their initial arrests, forcing them to give 
up the lives, families and careers they'd built because of an 
infraction that would result in a slap on the wrist under most circumstances.

While several states, including California, have started to wake up 
to the full extent of the failure of the War on Drugs  with its 
disproportionate and discriminatory impact on communities of color 
the federal government has been slow to catch up.

In California, a process called "Deferred Entry of Judgment" allows 
residents charged with a simple drug possession offense to avoid jail 
time following a guilty plea. As long as the person successfully 
completes a drug treatment program, the charges are dismissed and, in 
accordance with California law, the conviction is erased.

But such programs can have unintended federal consequences, 
especially for immigrants. With a plea of guilty, a person could lose 
federal housing and educational benefits  and an immigrant could 
automatically face deportation proceedings, whether or not that 
person successfully completes a drug treatment program. We're 
effectively making promises to people with our fingers crossed behind 
our backs and ruining lives in the process.

Two bills authored by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, 
D-Stockton, and currently pending in the state Senate would prevent 
that. Both bills would level the playing field with a simple 
technical fix  Assembly Bill 1351 would allow immigrants and others 
to avoid an initial guilty plea before starting a drug rehabilitation 
program, and Assembly Bill 1352 would allow individuals who have 
already completed rehabilitation programs to withdraw previous guilty 
pleas. Both of these would help keep immigrants from getting swept up 
in the deportation dragnet and end this incidence of second-class 
treatment of immigrants by our justice system.

At this moment, the rate of incarceration in America is the highest 
in our history  and the highest in the world. Of the more than 
200,000 people currently in prison, half found themselves there after 
a drug charge. Pretrial diversion recognizes that rehabilitation  not 
harsh and unrelenting punitive measures  saves lives, saves money and 
strengthens our communities. Immigrants should not be excluded from 
these programs, recriminalized and put in harm's way even after they 
serve their time and successfully complete rehabilitation programs.

Our justice system shouldn't perpetuate bias or create obstacles that 
punish immigrants because they live in America by choice, not by 
coincidence or an accident of birth. No matter when our families came 
here  whether it was for economic opportunity or to escape political 
repression, to give our kids access to a quality education or to 
embark on a new adventure  we all deserve equality before the law.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom