If Justin Bieber were from south of the border instead of from north of it, he might have been headed for a world of hurt following his arrest this week.
After Bieber was collared in Miami on suspicion of DUI yesterday, with one report saying he might have also been high on marijuana, the American Civil Liberties Union weighed in to remind us what could have happened if he were named Justino Benitez.
According to the ACLU's Diana Scholl …
… many other immigrants would have been “detained and deported for lesser offenses than his.”
A key ingredient in Bieber's case will be whether or not he's charged with a drug allegation, ACLU staff attorney and immigration specialist Michael Kaufman told us.
In cases involving drugs, many immigrants often end up languishing behind bars, he said, because they can't afford legal representation. About 84 percent of who end up in immigration detention don't have lawyers, the ACLU says.
If they're convicted of even a minor drug offense, the government locks immigrants up until they're deported (or fight deportation successfully), which can take months, sometimes years, Kaufman said.
If someone is here legally, like Biebs, and has a good attorney, like he surely will, they can usually enjoy freedom until any case goes to court, Kaufman said.
It's not clear if Bieber will face any drug allegations. *Charges had yet to be filed. TMZ says that he admitted to having smoked marijuana before he was busted allegedly drag racing in a yellow Lamborghini Gallardo on a Miami street yesterday.
In any case, the ACLU wants to use this as a teaching moment so that some focus can be put on the plight of non-celebrity (and often brown) immigrants arrested and locked up for relatively minor crimes. The group says that, for 25 years, it has challenged …
… laws that deny immigrants' access to the courts, impose indefinite and mandatory detention, and discriminate on the basis of nationality.
We come across people all the time in detention centers who have been convicted of relatively minor offenses, including controlled subs possession. If you're here as a low-wage worker, you don't have the resources that Bieber has.
*[Added at 1:53 p.m.]: Bieber was indeed charged yesterday with suspicion DUI involving alcohol or drugs. With TMZ saying his breathalyzer results were way below the alcohol DUI threshold, the case could hinge on the singer's reported admission that he had smoked weed. A successful conviction on a drug-related offense, then, could put him on the radar of immigration authorities. We'll see.