Racial Profiling in the War on Drugs Meets the Immigration Removal Process: The Case of Moncrieffe v. Holder

In Moncrieffe v. Holder, the Supreme Court held that the Board of Immigration Appeals could not remove a long-term lawful permanent resident from the United States based on a single misdemeanor conviction for possession of a small amount of marijuana. The decision clarified the meaning of an “aggravated felony” for purposes of removal, an important question under the U.S. immigration laws. In the removal proceedings, Adrian Moncrieffe, a black immigrant from Jamaica, did not challenge his arrest and drug conviction. Consequently, the Supreme Court did not review the facts surrounding, or the lawfulness of, the criminal prosecution. Nonetheless, the traffic stop resulting in Moncrieffe’s initial arrest, and the subsequent interactions with police, strongly suggest that race influenced the events leading to the criminal conviction. An examination of the facts of his case highlights how the modern criminal justice system works in combination with immigration removal proceedings to disparately impact communities of color in the United States. Over the last few decades, modern immigration enforcement has evolved into a tough, fast-moving criminal-immigration removal system. As Moncrieffe’s case attests, undocumented immigrants are not the only noncitizens subject to possible removal from the United States. The U.S. government frequently threatens to remove long-term lawful permanent residents convicted of relatively minor crimes. Many of these lawful permanent residents have deep ties to the community—ties that include children who are U.S. citizens.