Under U.S. President Barack Obama, the war on drugs is driving a surge in deportations of non-U.S. citizens, ripping families apart for alleged drug possession—including the most minor amounts and in many cases years after the fact—a new report from Human Rights Watch reveals.
A Price Too High: US Families Torn Apart By Deportations for Drug Offenses (pdf) is based on data from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, as well as over 130 interviews with impacted people, lawyers, and authorities.
The 93-page report finds that deportations for drug charges increased by 43 percent between 2007 and 2012.
During this time period, 260,000 people were exiled from the country for drug offenses—and 34,000 of them for alleged marijuana possession.
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While ICE claims it didn't keep track of the status of those deported, the study finds that the U.S. "is deporting a significant number of both permanent residents and undocumented individuals with strong family and community ties to the U.S., often for minor or old drug offenses."
"Unauthorized immigrants with any drug conviction, even a minor possession offense, face a lifetime bar from ever gaining legal status even if they have close U.S. citizen relatives," states the report.
According to the study, this trend is occurring despite growing criticism of the war on drugs and mass incarceration.
"Even as many U.S. states are legalizing and decriminalizing some drugs, or reducing sentences for drug offenses, federal immigration policy too often imposes exile for the same offenses," said Grace Meng, Human Rights Watch researcher and report author, in a press statement.
Marsha Austin, a 67-year-old great-grandmother, is one of the people impacted by these harsh policies. Austin is fighting a deportation for a drug conviction from 20 years ago, even though she is in recovery from addiction. "Austin is desperate to remain in the U.S.," states the report. "Her husband is in very bad health, as is her daughter who suffered a breakdown after her own daughter's serious illness. Austin said, 'My kids and grandkids, that's what I'm living for now.'"