New Report Outlines the Consequences of Participating in Maryland's Diversion Programs as a Noncitizen
Report finds guilty plea requirements lead to prolonged detention, deportation
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Oct. 11, 2016 - Today American University Washington College of Law ("WCL") and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland ("ACLU") released a report titled "Diverted into Deportation: The Immigration Consequences of Diversion Programs in Maryland," which explores the availability of diversion programs in certain Maryland counties and their effects on noncitizen participants. The report is a collaborative effort of American University Washington College of Law's Immigrant Justice Clinic and the ACLU.
Diversion programs are intended to help people charged with certain offenses avoid jail time, convictions, and associated costs. These programs are usually available to individuals who have been charged with an offense that is related to an underlying substance abuse problem and who meet certain other eligibility criteria. For these individuals, diversion programs offer opportunities for rehabilitation and enrollment in community-based treatment programs as an alternative to incarceration and a criminal record. Unfortunately, however, noncitizens who participate in these programs risk prolonged detention and possible deportation as a result of the requirement that they enter a guilty plea or accept a Probation Before Judgment in order to participate.
This report analyzes eight jurisdictions in Maryland that have large or growing noncitizen populations and describes how those jurisdictions implement diversion programs and alternative sanctions for persons charged on or after January 1, 2013 with drug or alcohol-related offenses. The report examines each jurisdiction's programs and concludes with recommendations for structuring diversion programs to ensure the broadest participation and to avoid not only criminal consequences but also immigration consequences for those who successfully complete the program. The recommendations include:
- Diversion programs should not require a guilty plea, admission of guilt, or a finding of guilt before participation.
- Diversion programs should be more widely available.
- Diversion programs should not require citizenship or lawful status for participants.
- Diversion programs should be available for a broader range of offenses.
- Diversion program should not require fees for participation, or at the very least should provide fee waivers for indigent persons who qualify for a public defender.
"Diversion programs are critical to ensuring that persons who should not be spending time behind bars are provided with alternatives to help address the underlying causes of substance abuse while avoiding the harsh consequences of criminal convictions and incarceration," said Sirine Shebaya, a Civil Rights Attorney and former Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Maryland who worked on the report. "Now more than ever, as we see broad agreement across the political spectrum on the importance of reducing the unnecessary and costly incarceration of persons of color, it is important to ensure that diversion programs are equally available to all residents of Maryland, and that noncitizens are not unnecessarily exposed to negative consequences as a result of participation."
"We hope this report encourages policymakers to ensure that county diversion programs are available to everyone and that they are structured so as to avoid harm to noncitizens who participate in them," said Alejandra Aramayo, a former Immigrant Justice Clinic student attorney. "We also hope that this report encourages county diversion programs to offer noncitizen Marylanders the same opportunities they already provide to similarly situated citizens."
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About the Immigrant Justice Clinic
The Immigrant Justice Clinic (IJC) at American University Washington College of Law provides representation on a broad range of cases and projects involving individual immigrants and migrants, and their communities, both in the D.C. metropolitan area and overseas. Student Attorneys in the IJC regularly appear in Immigration Court and may also appear before federal district court, the courts of Maryland and D.C., and before federal and state agencies. Since migration has a transnational dimension, the IJC occasionally advocates before regional and international bodies.
About the ACLU of Maryland
The Maryland ACLU works to ensure that all people in the state of Maryland are free to think and speak as they choose and can lead their lives free from discrimination and unwarranted government intrusion. We are guided in our work by the United States Bill of Rights and the Maryland Declaration of Rights. The Maryland ACLU acts without partisanship to achieve these goals.