Pubdate: Mon, 29 Jul 2019
Source: Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA)
Copyright: 2019 The Press-Enterprise Company
Author: Leonard Ortiz


Southern California immigrant with DACA status travels to Mexico so he
can become a legal permanent resident. But instead of getting the OK
for a green card, he's prevented from re-entering U.S.

Jose Palomar packed only a small suitcase because he thought his trip
to Mexico would be brief.

Seeking legal permanent residency, he had no choice but to go. But
now, nearly two months later, he's still in Mexico and barred from
returning to his home in the United States.

The hold-up: Palomar admitted that he previously used marijuana, which
is legal in California but isn't under federal law.

The 26-year-old Corona resident, who grew up in Anaheim, has temporary
legal status in the United States. He's married to a U.S. citizen and
is the father of American children. He traveled to Ciudad Juarez,
Mexico in June only to fulfill certain requirements needed to be
granted a green card, which would identify him as a permanent U.S.

Part of that process involved a physical. And, during that exam,
Palomar was asked whether he had ever used any illegal substance. He
answered truthfully: He used to smoke weed.

That answer put the brakes on his residence application -- and on the
life he's built in Southern California.

The government has denied his request for a green card and refused him
re-entry into the country where he's lived almost all his life.

"Right now, I'm in a strange world," Palomar said in a phone interview
from Mexico.

Palomar is not alone. There is considerable confusion over marijuana
use and its implications on immigration.

"It happens all the time," said Los Angeles immigration attorney Ally
Bolour, a board member of the American Immigration Lawyers

Palomar was 6 when he arrived in the United States.

He grew up in Anaheim, where he said he worked hard to learn English
and earn As in school. He went to Sunkist Elementary, then Sycamore
Junior High and later graduated from Anaheim High. He tried out for
the basketball team but wasn't tall enough, so he stuck with soccer
and made it to the school's junior varsity team.

In 2012, as soon as he learned about a then-new immigration program
called DACA -- or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals -- he
applied. Because he'd been a child when he was brought into the
country illegally, he qualified for the DACA protections advocated by
then President Barack Obama.

Since then, Palomar has renewed his DACA status three times. That has
allowed him to legally live and work in the U.S. without the threat of
deportation hanging over him.

At about the time he was learning about DACA, Jose Palomar met
Christine. He thought she was cute, and the feeling was mutual. Soon,
they started dating.

She had two children already, but that didn't scare him off.

"I literally fell in love with the kids as well," Palomar said.

They married about two years later, on Valentine's Day. They had a
baby of their own by then, Emily, and they've since had another baby
girl, Melanie, who is six months old. The older kids, April and
Joshua, are now pre-teens and Palomar said he considers them his
children as well.

Palomar worked in construction. But when his wife got a promotion, in
advertising sales, he took a night job at a warehouse, freeing him for
child-care during the day.

Five years of marriage passed and Palomar qualified to apply for a
green card. Once he gets that, he can later apply to become a
naturalized American.

"I have bigger goals," Palomar said. "I want to become a citizen."

Palomar admits to having smoked pot, though it's been awhile.

Christine Palomar, meanwhile, never really approved. She doesn't even
like the fact that, two years ago, California voters approved the
recreational use of cannabis.

So, while getting ready for his trip and a physical in Mexico, Jose
Palomar said he'd stopped smoking pot almost three months before
leaving. Not just because of his upcoming test, he said, but because
he was looking to stop altogether.

To make sure the drug was out of his system, he tested himself -- four

"Every test came out negative," Christine Palomar said.

Still, he was advised by his attorney that when asked anything he
should answer truthfully. So he did.

"I admitted to have used (marijuana) in the past," Palomar said. "I
was told by my lawyer that during the process in Juarez to speak about
nothing but the truth as it would hurt me to lie. So I was honest, but
apparently it still affected my case."

Refusing to lie meant he lost his I- 601 waiver, the paperwork that
would allow Palomar to re-enter the country.

"Does the government want us to be truthful, or does the government
want us to lie?" Christine Palomar asked.

"If you're truthful, look what happens. (But) if you lie, you can
still get in trouble," she added. "It's not fair."

The use of cannabis for medical purposes is now legal in 33 states
plus the District of Columbia. Eleven states, including California,
and D.C., allow recreational use of the drug. But for immigration --
which follows federal laws -- marijuana presents a thorny issue.

"You can't use it. You can't work in a dispensary. And even if you're
a U.S. citizen working in the cannabis industry and your income is
cannabis related, that income is not eligible to satisfy the affidavit
of support to become a sponsor," said Bolour, the L.A. immigration

"You won't get a visa. You won't get a green card. You won't get a
waiver," he added. "It happens a lot."

The Immigrant Legal Resource Center advises non-U.S. citizens to not
use marijuana or work in marijuana shops. The San Francisco-based
organization also warns immigrants against carrying a medical
marijuana card, keeping text messages on their phones that might
connect them to marijuana, or even wearing a t-shirt that bears a
pro-pot image.

According to a January 2018 advisory from the center: "A real danger
posed by state legalized marijuana is that immigrants will wrongly
believe that it is ‘safe' to disclose apparently lawful conduct
to federal officials, when in fact this can result in catastrophic
immigration consequences."

That's why the center says immigrants should be advised that "there
are very few instances when it is advisable to admit to having
possessed or committed other conduct relating to marijuana." It is
better to decline to answer the question, even if it means a denial,
according to the advisory.

"Bar is extremely low"

In the case of Jose Palomar, it's unclear whether government officials
are claiming he tested positive for marijuana or if they're relying
solely on his honest responses.

"Even if they admitted to drug use just once, say back in high school,
it makes them inadmissible to the federal government," said Bolour,
who is not representing Palomar but has seen similar situations.

"The panel physician may determine -- at their discretion -- that the
applicant is an abuser. They will relay the information to the visa
office, which will result in a finding of inadmissibility based on
drug use and/or trafficking, depending on other facts," Bolour said.

"The bar is extremely low for such a finding."

That may be just what happened in Palomar's case.

The U.S. Consulate office in Ciudad Juarez reported that a doctor
established that Palomar was a drug abuser or addict, according to the
office of Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, who is looking into the case at
the request of Christine Palomar. Calvert's office said such cases are
determined by medical tests and the applicant's statements. In this
case, no evidence was presented by the Consulate office that Jose
Palomar tested positive.

"This is the first incident in my Congressional district that's been
brought to my attention where an immigrant has had their legal status
impacted, at least in part, because of the conflicting legal
classification of marijuana under state and federal law," Calvert said
in an e-mailed statement.

"I think this situation only further underscores the inherit problems
with the contradictory legalization of marijuana. Until something is
passed to change the federal classification of marijuana, individuals,
businesses and even state/local governments should be mindful that the
use, distribution and sale of marijuana continues to be crime in the
eyes of all federal agencies," Calvert wrote.

Calvert's office is looking to see what waiver options may be
available to allow Jose Palomar to return home.

Meanwhile, Christine Palomar said she's at a loss without her

"I'm all alone. My in-laws were helping me, but they will be
leaving ... I can't do this by myself," she said, choking back tears.

"I cry myself to sleep every night."

Jose Palomar, in a separate interview, also broke down as he described
his life in Guadalajara. He's living with a relative he doesn't know
well, and in a country where he has to use Google to translate words
he doesn't remember in Spanish.

"I miss my family," he said. "And I can tell they're struggling
without me.

"I have never been unemployed. I (pay) my taxes," he added. "I did
everything like every other American. And when this happened, it
crushed me."

"Because of that one thing, I've basically lost my family."

Christine Palomar says this of her husband: "He's an American. He
doesn't know anything about Mexico.

"This is crazy this is happening."

Unless he finds some option, Jose Palomar stands to stay in Mexico for
at least a year, possibly many more.
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