In an editorial, progressive political organizer Imani Oakley explains why she believes that the war on drugs is able to live on through contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in New Jersey.
The War on Drugs has been a colossal disaster. Besides wholly failing to rehabilitate those suffering from addiction, it also has criminalized the personal choice of substance use in ways not seen since Prohibition.
Today this failure means that approximately 1 in 5 people incarcerated are behind bars due to drug charges. Moreover, most of those prosecuted are Black and Brown, despite the use and sale of drugs remaining similar across racial and ethnic demographics.
And while at the state and federal levels, some work is underway to undo the harms caused by the War on Drugs, one group of people, in particular, remain too often erased from conversations: our immigrant neighbors, family, and friends.
In Bergen County, Marvin Jerezano Pena — who immigrated to the US from Mexico as a child — sits in jail and faces deportation because of a marijuana offense in a state where the drug is supposedly legal.
Marvin’s story, sadly, is not unique. In 2018, Dane Foster, an immigrant from Jamaica, was threatened with deportation due to an old marijuana conviction. Although Dane has since been released from ICE detention, others have not been as lucky. As of 2012, over 34,000 immigrants have been deported for cannabis possession.
Why does this happen?
True, marijuana has been legalized for recreational use in New Jersey. Yet, immigrants are still at the mercy of federal law when it comes to cannabis.
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), deportation remains a possible penalty for marijuana possession despite being legal in most US states.
As a country, we are finally realizing what an absolute failure the War on Drugs has been. We now know that it did nothing to make our communities safer and just ripped families apart. Doesn’t this sound familiar?
That’s because ICE, which also has detention contracts in Hudson and Union Counties, has also failed to make our communities safer.
This sounds familiar because ICE has also ripped families apart for no valid reason whatsoever. And ultimately, this sounds familiar because ICE has also been an absolute failure, and it’s time that we abolish it.
Imani R. Oakley is a progressive political organizer and New Jersey native who has worked in politics on the federal, state, and grassroots levels.