DENVER MAYOR PROTESTS LEGAL IMMIGRANTS BEING DENIED CITIZENSHIP FOR MARIJUANA JOBS

Written by: Taher Kameli, Esq.

Oswaldo Barrientos emigrated to the United States from El Salvador when he was a baby 29 years ago.  He received his green card at age 13 and currently remains a legal immigrant in the United States. Barrientos has no criminal record and a stable job.  Does he seem like the type of person who should be rejected when he applied for US citizenship? You probably would think no, but unfortunately such is not the case.  Barrientos in fact was recently denied US citizenship, and told that he “lacked moral character”, because he has worked for the past five years at The Dab, a marijuana cultivation business in Denver, Colorado.  Denver Mayor Michael Hancock last week intervened in the cases of Barrientos and another unnamed legal immigrant whose citizenship application was also denied because of her job in the marijuana industry.

Protesting these citizenship denials, on April 3, Mayor Hancock wrote U.S. Attorney General William Barr, stating, “They have graduated from our schools. . . . They have paid our taxes.  They are working to achieve the American dream and complying with the processes in place to become a part of our great society, but were denied naturalization solely because of their cannabis industry employment. . . . The City and County of Denver respectfully requests formal guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that would clarify and adjust policies that are negatively impacting the legal immigration status for people who work or have previously worked in Colorado’s legal cannabis industry. . . . We strongly believe that such guidance is imperative to ensuring consistent implementation and enforcement of state marijuana laws and regulations in the more than 30 U.S. states that have chosen to fully or partially legalize cannabis”.  Denver will be running announcements on its public access television station and distributing flyers warning immigrants of the risks of involvement in the marijuana industry.

The problem is that marijuana is legal under Colorado law, but illegal under Federal law, and citizenship (immigration) decisions are based on Federal law.  In a statement, Debbie Cannon, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) spokesperson, said, “Marijuana is illegal under federal law and as a federal agency USCIS is required to adjudicate based upon federal law. . . . [W]e are legally unable to make special considerations in these cases unless or until federal law is changed”.

Barrientos is appealing the citizenship decision and would consider suing in Federal court if his appeal fails.  Aaron Elinoff, one of Barrientos’ attorneys, said, “If the executive branch is so intent on upholding federal law, you would see the U.S. attorney’s office prosecuting every marijuana business owner, everybody who worked in the industry. . . . But they’re not. . . . [T]hey’re merely targeting immigrants”.

Elinoff’s comment suggests that the denial of Barrientos’ citizenship application is more attributable to anti-immigration policy than to anti-marijuana policy.  If correct, such would be yet another example of the anti-immigration policies of the Trump administration and their adverse impact on immigrants. The Law Offices of Kameli and Associates has extensive experience and success in fighting against anti-immigration policies of the US government.  If you are an immigrant whose citizenship application is being denied or whose immigrant rights are otherwise being attacked by the Trump administration, please contact the Law Offices of Kameli and Associates, at taher@kameli.com or 312-233-1000, for assistance.