Pot Brownie-Selling Teen Could Be Deported, And That Tells Us A Lot About Immigration Reform

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Prom is an anxious experience for teenage girls around the country, but few stories are as drama-filled as the tale of one California teen. Last year, Saira Munoz, then an 18-year-old student of River Valley High School in northern California, sold pot brownies in order to raise money for her prom dress. Unfortunately, after one of her customers fell ill from the laced baked good, Munoz's plans came to a screeching halt at the hands of the authorities — and now she may be deported.

Despite California's decriminalization of marijuana, because Munoz hired another student to sell the brownies on her behalf, she was charged with employing a minor to sell marijuana — which is a felony. On Monday, the now 19-year-old was sentenced to four years probation and nine days in jail. But more concerning is the possibility of Munoz's deportation

Munoz first came to the United States in 2000, at which point she had temporary permission to be in the country. However, now that the Sutter County Probation Department has called the Feds about her conviction, her status in the U.S. seems to be at risk.

In spite of conventional wisdom, deportations have actually sunk under President Obama. A report released on Thursday by the New Democrat Network, a center-left think tank, gives a comprehensive look at the deportation statistics under Obama's administration. While the total number of deportations has dropped, contrary to reports of Obama's status as the "deporter-in-chief," there has been a significant rise in the number of "removals," coupled with a decline in the number of "returns."

Removals are defined as "compulsory and confirmed movement of inadmissible or deportable aliens out of the United States based on an order of removal." They also come with severe consequences, including a mandatory five to ten year ban from re-entering the United States, and potential incarceration or a lifetime ban should an individual return to the United States illegally. 

Returns, on the other hand, are "voluntary departures," and have much laxer guidelines in terms of leaving the country. Individuals are often allowed to stay for a short period of time to make last-minute arrangements, and also do not face nearly as severe of punishments should they return to the U.S.

If Munoz were to be deported, her status would likely fall under the "removal" category, especially because "removals" are generally targeted at those with criminal records. According to the NDN report, "82% of the unauthorized immigrants it arrested and removed from the interior U.S. had a criminal conviction." Munoz, unfortunately, would fit this bill.

This situation speaks to the absurdity of the current immigration laws in place. House Democrats have increasingly placed pressure on the Obama administration to overhaul current immigration policies, especially considering the GOP's refusal to move the issue up from the back burner.

Unfortunately, congressional Democrats have their hands tied, as they face a Republican majority in the House and declining political capital. However, perhaps Munoz's case will shed light on the current status of immigrants in the United States: While Munoz's attempts at resourcefulness were certainly ill-conceived, if she were to be removed, she would not only be separated from her family, but would also be denied the opportunity to continue her education and to seek economic opportunity in the United States. 

Many Republican congressmen, including previously-Massachusetts-now-New-Hampshire-hopeful Scott Brown, favor removing illegal immigrants from the United States before allowing them to begin their citizenship application, which would practically choke an already bottle-necked process. Applications for work visas hit a record high this year, with the number of applicants representing twice the number of available visas.

The deportation of 19-year-old Saira Munoz would be a blow to an already struggling immigration scene, and we can only hope that her pot brownies will not be her ticket out of the United States.


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