PASO West Suburban Action Project, the Melrose Park-based immigrant rights and social justice organization, recently helped organize a press conference in Chicago to sound the alarm about how the pending legalization of recreational marijuana in Illinois will affect documented and undocumented immigrants.

Activists who attended the press conference, held Dec. 11 at the National Immigration Justice Center, 224 S. Michigan Ave., said that, despite the state legalizing recreational cannabis, the drug is still considered illegal by federal authorities — so immigrants aren’t in the clear. Immigrants can still face consequences, including deportation, heaped on them by federal authorities who still consider marijuana illegal.

Mony Ruiz-Velasco, PASO’s executive director, said that all non-citizens, including visa holders, refugees, asylum-seekers and permanent resident aliens, could be endangered by working in the cannabis industry, despite legalization.

For instance, an immigrant who works at a cannabis dispensary or cultivation center, or who simply invests in such a business, could have their job or investment counted against them while applying for permanent residency or citizenship.

“Working in this industry, profiting or benefitting, could make you a target for deportation,” Ruiz-Velasco said.

Kathleen Vannucci, an attorney, said that immigration officials have the right to check phones. Any message or photo that references buying or smoking marijuana, or  shows someone attending a party where marijuana was smoked, could negatively affect an immigrant’s status, she said. 

When asked about the possibility of Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers staking out cannabis dispensaries, and whether anything could be done to address it, Ruiz-Velasco said that PASO has seen “aggressive tactics” in many places, including courthouses. She urged dispensaries to inform immigrants of their rights — something the state can do, as well. 

Ruiz-Velasco also urged immigrants to consult an attorney with other questions or concerns related to cannabis legalization.


Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...