Title 8 of the United States Code, which deals with immigration and nationality, defines multiple grounds for inadmissibility, by which the federal government may deny a prospective immigrant entry to the U.S., and deportability, by which it may remove an immigrant from the country. Drug abuse and drug addiction, even without a criminal conviction, are considered grounds for both inadmissibility and deportability. This has been the case since Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. See Castaneda de Esper v. INS, 557 F.2d 79, 82 (6th Cir. 1977). As a report published by Vice several months ago notes, this can be difficult to enforce, since it relies on an immigrant’s honesty on immigration forms, or an inadvertent admission, such as through medical records.
U.S. courts have generally held that drug addiction does not, in and of itself, mitigate criminal liability for drug-related offenses, although some judges have expressed concern about criminalizing mere drug possession when addiction is involved. See, e.g., United States v. Moore, 486 F.2d 1139, 1243 (D.C. Cir. 1973) (Wright, J.; Bazelon, C.J.; Tamm, J.; Robinson, J.; dissenting) (“[I]in determining responsibility for crime, the law assumes ‘free will’ and then recognizes known deviations ‘where there is a broad consensus that free will does not exist’ with respect to the particular condition at issue.”) Federal authorities in immigration cases have a lower burden of proof than in criminal cases, so this principle would certainly seem to apply in decisions regarding inadmissibility and deportability.
Drug abuse and addiction are considered health-related grounds for inadmissibility. 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(1)(A)(iv). Federal law allows waivers for other health-related grounds, i.e., subsections (a)(1)(A)(i) through (iii), under 8 U.S.C. § 1182(g). Subsection (iv) is conspicuously absent from that list. For example, a prospective immigrant without a vaccination record for certain illnesses, who would be inadmissible under § 1182(a)(1)(A)(ii), may obtain a waiver by demonstrating that they have received a vaccination, that a vaccination would not be “medically appropriate,” or that it would go against their “religious beliefs or moral convictions.” 8 U.S.C. § 1182(g)(2). The only waiver that might be available for all health-related grounds, including subsection (iv), applies to victims of human trafficking and individuals involved in trafficking investigations. 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101(a)(15)(T), 1182(d)(13)(B)(i).