DENVER (CBS4) – Marijuana may be legal in Colorado, but immigrants are finding out their applications for citizenship are being denied if they work in the cannabis industry. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

Oswaldo Barrientos has been working for years for a licensed company as a grower.

CBS4’s Rick Sallinger interviews Oswaldo Barrientos. (credit: CBS)

The El Salvador native has been in the U.S. legally 29 of his 30 years, but he was turned down for citizenship.

“I was shocked, complete shock. It was gut wrenching,” he told CBS4 investigator Rick Sallinger

A letter from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said he committed an illegal act by working at a marijuana dispensary.

(credit: CBS)

Barrientos’ attorney, Aaron Elinoff, says they are, in effect, convicting him of something perfectly legal in Colorado.

“Because you are working in what the federal government considers a criminal enterprise you are not a good person,” said explaining their point of view.

(credit: CBS)

Barrientos and another immigrant met with Mayor Michael Hancock who fired off a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr stating:

“Lawful, permanent residents like the Denver residents I have met with are being denied naturalization and may lose their legal status based on their lawful employment in the cannabis industry.”

Denver’s City Attorney Kristin Bronson told CBS 4, “I don’t think we are holding our breath about the federal government changing its policy.”

She added, “We have legal immigrants living in Denver contributing to our community putting themselves unknowingly at risk.”

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

So they are issuing warnings to those not aware so they don’t end up in a predicament like Oswaldo who is not giving up on seeking citizenship.

“Honestly I’ve felt like an American my whole life, I don’t know any other life,” he said.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services responded by issuing the following statement:

Marijuana is illegal under federal law and as a federal agency USCIS is required to adjudicate based upon federal law. Despite state laws that may allow medical marijuana use, the Supreme Court has held that Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause empowers it to prohibit drug distribution and possession, even if the prohibited activities are not also illegal under state law. Further, Congress’ authority over immigration law and to prescribe inadmissibilities to the United States is absolute.

· Depending on the facts of each adjustment application, an applicant could be found to be inadmissible under INA § 212(a)(2)(A)(i)(II) for the Use or Possession of Marijuana INA §§ 212(a)(2)(A)(i)(II) & 212(a)(2)(C)(i) and/or under Trafficking Marijuana INA § 212(a)(2)(A)(i)(I) for Crime Involving Moral Turpitude as a Trafficker of a Controlled Substance.

· USCIS evaluates each case on its unique circumstances, and examines each case based upon its unique circumstances to determine whether an individual merits a favorable exercise of discretion in order to grant adjustment.

Despite state law that may allow medical marijuana use, the Supreme Court has held that Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause empowers it to prohibit drug distribution and possession, even if the prohibited activities are not also illegal under state law. When adjudicating applicants for citizenship, the agency is required to apply federal law. We appreciate the candor of applicants who provide the requisite documentation illustrating legal purchase and possession under state law. However, as a federal agency, we are legally unable to make special considerations in these cases unless or until federal law is changed.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is required to adjudicate cases based on federal law. Individuals who commit federal controlled substance violations face potential immigration consequences under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which applies to all aliens regardless of the state or jurisdiction in which they reside.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law regardless of any actions to decriminalize its possession, use or sale at the state and local level, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has not issued any policy exempting the INA’s prohibitions on marijuana violations in locations where marijuana is legal under local laws.

Rick Sallinger

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