Are green card holders now at greater risk of being deported for minor drug offenses?

Alexsa Foster could not hold back her tears when looking at photos of her husband, Dane Foster. He’s a Jamaican immigrant who has been a legal resident with a green card since 1997. He and his wife, an Army veteran, have four children ages 2 through 9. Foster was detained by ICE in December after the two dropped off their daughter at day care.

“He was like, I never got anything in the mail of a warrant or anything, and they were like, No this is through immigration, you have to come with us,” Alexsa said.

Between 2000 and 2014, Dane was arrested three times on charges of simple marijuana possession; all were misdemeanors and resulted in fines. He was never jailed. His attorney says despite his having no further criminal convictions, he is now subject to deportation.

“You have people out here who are criminals get to come home until their hearings,” Alexza Foster said.

Under the law, green card holders who are also permanent residents are allowed to live and work in the United States as long as they renew their card every 10 years and follow the law. While they do have legal status, that could be revoked and they could be deported if they are convicted of a crime.

ICE released a statement saying Dane, a Jamaican national, is subject to removal from the U.S. based on his criminal history.

While it’s on the books that anyone with more than a single conviction of under 30 grams of a controlled substance is deportable, Dane’s lawyer, Afia Yunus, says it’s highly unusual for green card holders with this type of record to be subject to deportation.

“After Trump was elected, one of the first memos that came out was that they were simply eliminating the prioritization system and anyone who has committed an immigration violation or a criminal offense that’s removable or inadmissible, they are going to go after,” Yunus said.

Yunus believes the crackdown is in response to a new directive last month by the state attorney general to limit how much local law enforcement helps ICE detain immigrants.

“Soon thereafter, in the week following, I received four calls from individuals who have been detained by ICE,” Yunus said.

York has been an immigration attorney in Newark for 23 years. He believes smartphones have put immigration on the forefront of people’s minds.

“The volume of deportation, if you include both green card holders who might have violations of criminal and/or immigration law, coupled with non-green card holders, so-called undocumented, would have been at its record under Obama, actually,” York said.

Other immigration lawyers NJTV spoke with say they see no uptick in green card holders being arrested for low-level drug offenses.

Dane’s first hearing is on Jan. 16 at Elizabeth Immigration Court.