Legal immigrants in marijuana-related jobs could be denied citizenship – NBCNews.com

By The Associated Press

Colorado officials are warning legal immigrants that working in the state’s marijuana industry could jeopardize their legal status, after two people said they were denied U.S. citizenship because of their jobs.

Although 10 states broadly allow its use and sale, federal law still bans marijuana and immigration authorities say they are bound to follow that prohibition when reviewing citizenship applications.

Attorneys representing the two legal immigrants from Colorado, and Denver officials, accused the Trump administration of quietly targeting immigrants seeking to work in the expanding field. Immigration advocates said Thursday they have seen others denied citizenship based on past or ongoing work in cannabis-related jobs, but it is not clear how many cases exist.

Oswaldo Barrientos, one of those denied citizenship, said he began working in the industry in 2014. He was inspired by the research he had done into medical products after his mother was diagnosed with skin cancer.

Barrientos, 30, said he was brought to the U.S. from El Salvador as an infant and was granted a green card when he was 13.

He said he didn’t anticipate any problems with his citizenship application. He is fluent in English and said he has no criminal history, pays taxes and graduated high school. But during an interview in November, the immigration official focused on Barrientos’ job with a state-licensed company that grows marijuana, he said.

Weeks later, he received a letter from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services denying him because of his job, his lawyers said.

“I was shocked, appalled, sad,” Barrientos said. “It was a mixture of emotions. I had no idea I was going to be in this situation.”

Barrientos’ attorneys Aaron Elinoff and Bryce Downer, who specialize in immigration law in Colorado, said they also represent a woman whose citizenship application was denied because of a previous job at a marijuana dispensary. She asked not to be named publicly because of a new job in the medical field, they said.

“Frankly, these are the people we want to be citizens,” Elinoff said. “And the U.S. government is telling them no. We don’t know how many people have been denied on the same issue.”