The Trump administration says it will begin denying asylum to migrant people with misdemeanor marijuana offenses in the United States. The new rule will likely take effect in 30 days. The move comes as part of a larger effort by the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to narrow eligibility among migrants with misdemeanor convictions. Asylum requests would also be denied for anyone accused of domestic violence, according to a draft version of the rule published Thursday.
Marijuana Could Join Murder, Rape and Domestic Violence as Reasons to Deny Asylum
The Trump administration already prevents most Central American immigrants from seeking asylum in the United States. Under a rule approved by the Supreme Court back in September, anyone who passes through another country on their way to the United States without seeking asylum there is automatically denied asylum in the U.S.
Yet the White House is seeking to restrict asylum eligibility further with a new set of rules related to misdemeanor convictions. One of those rules would deny asylum to anyone convicted “for possession or trafficking of a controlled substance,” according to the DOJ notice. Under federal law, cannabis containing more than 0.3 percent THC is considered a Schedule I controlled substance. The rule also includes possession or trafficking of “controlled-substances paraphernalia” as a reason to deny asylum.
The DOJ draft of the proposed rule says those who possess controlled substances pose “a direct threat” to U.S. health and safety and therefore do not deserve asylum.
Most people who apply for asylum protections in the United States are fleeing poverty, persecution and violence in their home countries. Regulations already block asylum seekers with murder or rape convictions. Now, the Trump administration wants to add marijuana to that list.
New Rule Includes Narrow Exception for One-Time Offenders
The White House’s new asylum rule doesn’t completely block all migrants with U.S. marijuana convictions from seeking asylum. The draft version of the rule currently includes a narrow exception.
Migrants with just a single offense involving possession for one’s own use of 30 grams or less of marijuana will still be eligible for asylum.
The White House has not yet commented on the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security’s new asylum rule. But there will be a 30-day comment period on the draft proposal. After the 30-day period is up, the new rule will likely take effect as law.
When it does, marijuana possession will join a number of other minor crimes the Trump administration is using to bar immigrants from seeking asylum, like driving under the influence and possessing a fake ID.
The new asylum policy would not apply to offenses committed outside the U.S. Still, the Trump administration’s push to deny asylum over misdemeanor crimes like drug possession marks a significant shift in federal immigration policy. Until recently, only particularly serious crimes have been grounds to deny asylum requests. But critics have blasted even those restrictions, saying they prevent the most vulnerable families from obtaining protection in the U.S.