When noncitizens are authorized to work and live in the United States, they often want to fully integrate themselves into our society. However, by doing so, they may unknowingly put their immigration status in jeopardy. When I think of immigration traps for the unwary, voting and legal marijuana are the first two issues that come to mind. Before undertaking either, you should know what’s at stake regarding your immigration status.
Going to the Polls
Under U.S. law, ONLY citizens can vote in federal elections. That’s right – only citizens can vote. Permanent residents, aka Green Card holders, cannot vote. However, local governmental agencies can make their own rules about who can vote including noncitizens. For example, starting in December, noncitizens will be allowed to register to vote in New York City. Then, they will be able to vote in 2023. According to a recent article in Politico, about 800,000 green card holders and others authorized to work in the country will become eligible to vote for mayor, City Council, and other local offices. Obviously, these large numbers can certainly impact an election.
On the surface, the movement to allow noncitizens the right to vote seems like a reasonable idea. After all, they are here legally and contribute to local economies, pay taxes, and educate their children. That said, my point is not to debate if it is a good idea to allow noncitizens to vote or not.
As an immigration lawyer, I want to let people know that there may be unintended consequences should they exercise their legal right to vote in local elections. It is common for both local and federal elections to be on the same ballot. For example, you may have candidates running for U.S. Senate on the same ballot as candidates running for the local school board. You may fill in the circle or push a button, inadvertently casting a vote for the U.S. Senate candidate. Guess what? You just broke the law. And by breaking the law, you may have just set yourself up for deportation proceedings or other harsh penalties.
I am of the opinion that the risks far outweigh the benefits. So, if you choose to vote, proceed with extreme caution.
I’ll get to the point. Don’t touch that joint.
Being in primary season for elections, voting is certainly a hot topic. But there is another one. Marijuana. Many states now have legal marijuana. Some are limited to medical use while others also have legal recreational or adult use. Regardless of your state’s laws, marijuana use is still illegal at the Federal level.
Immigration law is federal so know this – the use or possession of marijuana will negatively impact your green card application. It does not matter if it is legal where you live, and it does not matter if you have a medical card. Failure to heed this warning can lead to the denial of your green card. And you may have to deal with other immigration headaches.
What About My Job?
Likewise, in addition to advising clients not to use marijuana, I tell them not to work in the cannabis industry. It does not matter if you are just a store clerk or an investor. Until marijuana is legal at the Federal level, stay away from it.
Avoid these immigration traps for the unwary. If you have any questions about this post or other immigration law needs, give me a call.