California Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) re-introduced a bill Monday that would protect undocumented immigrants charged with low-level drug offenses from deportation if they complete a pre-trial diversion program that includes counseling and rehabilitation.
The measure, which is strikingly similar to a bill vetoed by California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) in 2015, would allow undocumented immigrants with no prior violent offenses or convictions to enroll in a drug treatment program within five years of their arrest, allowing them to forgo entering a guilty plea. If the drug treatment program is completed, the drug-related charge would be removed from the person’s record.
Even minor drug offenses have lead to deportation for undocumented immigrants in California because of a discrepancy between state and federal law. In California, those with minor drug charges must first plead guilty before opting for treatment. Once treatment is completed, the charge is dropped by the state. However, all drug convictions stand under federal immigration law, leading to deportation proceedings for both undocumented people and those with green cards, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The bill comes as President Trump says he will have “zero tolerance for criminal aliens,” a segment of the population that was targeted under the Obama administration.
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Under President Obama, there was an 87 percent increase in deportations of “convicted criminals” between fiscal years 2008 and 2013. This was largely due to the way the administration widened what constituted “criminal behavior.” As FactCheck.org explained, “the 87 percent increase in the deportation of ‘convicted criminals’ was driven almost exclusively by those with a traffic violation (up 191 percent) and individuals convicted of immigration offenses (up 167 percent).”
If the Trump administration keeps its promise to quickly deport 3 million undocumented immigrants, it will require a further expansion of what it means to be a “criminal,” going beyond the designations of the Obama administration.
Two senior officials in Trump’s transition team divulged in November that the president will seek to widen the net to include “migrants who have been charged but not convicted, suspected gang members and drug dealers, and people charged with such immigration violations as illegal reentry and overstaying visas, as well as lower-level misdemeanors,” according to the Los Angeles Times.