This new bill proposed an alternative judicial option for immigrants facing minor drug charges in California, potentially shielding immigrants from the very real threat of deportation and thwarted citizenship.
Citizens arrested for minor drug charges within the state of California have the option of electing to go into the drug diversion program. This program requires the person charged to plead guilty and then undergo drug counseling. Following the completion of their schedule of counseling, the accused will have successfully avoided jail time and the charges will be dropped from his or her record.
The new bill proposes that this legal option be open to illegal immigrants as well, without requiring the guilty plea.
Under this bill, immigrants charged with drug possession and other minor narcotic-based crimes will be allowed to enter counseling even before a plea is made, so a guilty plea will not be required to successfully complete a counseling program. This legal procedure will have no negative impact on their criminal record or residency status in the United States.
Presently, if an illegal immigrant chooses to go through the drug diversion program, he will face the looming threat of deportation to their home country. This unpleasant predicament was experienced by Jesús Cordero, who plead guilty to drug possession and underwent counseling which later on came to the attention of U.S. immigration services officials. This resulted to thousands of dollars in legal expenses for Cordero, along with the imminent threat of deportation. Cordero was fortunate to eventually secure a green card and have his drug charges overturned. But he definitely feels that change is needed, saying it is unfair for people to suffer over “a really stupid mistake.”
This call for change has been heard and acted upon by California State Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), author of the proposed bill. Assemblymember Eggman believes that minor drug charges should not result in the removal of the immigrant, but rather help and rehabilitation. Immigrants, she believes, should be permitted a second chance, just as American citizens are.
“For those who want to get treatment and get their life right, we should see that with open arms, not see it as a way of deporting somebody,” she said.
However, this bill is not without opposition. Jessica M. Vaughn of the Center for Immigration Studies has expressed her disapproval for the legislation, specifically questioning the proposed law’s value to the public.
“I’m always a little bit astonished at the length that certain advocacy groups will go to try to protect non-citizens from deportation when they’ve been involved in criminal activity,” Vaughn said. “What is the public interest for the state of California to allow illegal alien drug offenders to walk away from prosecution and deportation?”
Moreover, opposition has arisen from the law enforcement sector. Sean Hoffman, lobbyist for the California District Attorneys Association (CDAA), argued that if this bill passes, legal prosecutors will be faced with added work. Hoffman said that the process of permitting drug counseling before a plea ultimately “ends up being more labor intensive for prosecutors.” This is because, Hoffman says, if the defendant fails to complete his or her treatment, “we’re left trying to track down witnesses and evidence,” which can sometimes take months.
The CDAA believes there are other options that should be looked into. “We think that there’s another way to address that problem without upending the existing process” said Hoffman.