Father Faces Deportation Back to Russia For Teenage Pot Possession

| by Allison Geller

A man who came to the United States with his family in the early 90s at the age of 14 has been battling with Immigration and Customs Enforcement for over a year. ICE seeks deport him for teenage marijuana possession.

When Alexander Timofeev came to Madison, Wisconsin as a teenager from the U.S.S.R., both he and his parents were unprepared for their new life in a place where a lot of things were easier to come by than in their home country—including drugs. Now Timofeev is facing deportation back to his native Russia, where he has no connections, forcing him to leave his children and family in the U.S.

"I did not realize my convictions were an immigration problem until I was detained by ICE last month and placed into deportation proceedings," Timofeev, now 35, said in a sworn affidavit from last October. "I was very shocked when I learned that my convictions carried such serious immigration consequences."

The Wisconsin newspaper Isthmus reported on Timofeev’s story last July when his battle had recently started. Timofeev, who has a fiancée and two daughters, thought that the ICE officials brought good news about his ongoing petition for permanent residence when they showed up at his door past midnight in September 2011. In fact, they handcuffed him and brought him to the Milwaukee office of ICE and told him he had “abandoned” his citizenship petition because of the possession charges, which date back to 1996. He was detained for four months.

A Think Progress (edit: link corrected) article from last November writes that Timofeev had a difficult adjustment to live in the U.S., clashing with his parents and running away from home to get married at the age of 17. Since then, he has worked as a chef at several restaurants and supports his two daughters financially and emotionally. He is now unable to work legally due to his status, and his legal bills are piling up.

UW-Madison University neuroscientist and social justice activist Ron Kalil weighed in on Timofeev’s case recently, telling Isthmus that Timofeev’s repeated pot offenses were examples of “classic teenage behavior.” The brain doesn’t fully develop until a person is in their 20s, so making the same mistake multiple times is a sign of the brain’s asymmetrical development.

"Alex's behavior was classic teenage behavior," Kalil said of the possession convictions. "He did something wrong, and then he did it again and again. He wasn't able to take a measured view of what the consequences would be. If that [brain] function is not there, you just keep doing it."

As a teenager with few English skills, Timofeev didn’t understand the consequences of pleading guilty to the marijuana charges. Now his only hope is to “post-conviction relief,” according to his immigration layer, Davorin Odrcic.

Deportation would be a serious tragedy for both Timofeev, who is American for all intents and purposes, and his family.

“If they send me away I can never come back. Not in five years, not in 10. Never,” he said.

Sources: Isthmus (2), Think Progress