Isthmus published a story today that takes a look at just how different life in the U.S. can be for immigrants.

The story takes a look at the life of Russian immigrant Alex Timofeev. Timofeev, now 35, moved to Wisconsin with his parents at the age of 14. On the surface, his life in the states sounds like a common story. He was a little wild when he was younger. But soon he grew up, found a career, and started a family.

So why is Timofeev now facing permanent deportation from the U.S.?

He was caught smoking weed a few times over 15 years ago.

As a 17 to 19-year-old teen, Timofeev was charged three times with possession of marijuana. Timofeev was caught doing something that millions of Americans admit to doing at some point in their lives, but his status as an immigrant changes everything.

Under the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, immigrants can be permanently deported from the US for almost any crime conviction, even for something as minor as marijuana possession. Timofeev’s teenage smoking could cost him his life in the states with a fiancée and two daughters.

There is no time limit for when an immigrant convicted of a crime can be deported from the U.S. Timofeev’s lawyer, Davorin Odrcic, says he has seen recent clients face deportation for drug charges from the 1970’s. So when the Milwaukee office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement showed up at Timofeev’s house and put him in handcuffs, there was nothing he could do.

Timofeev, whose family and friends all rave about his success as a professional and a father, has been in custody at the Dodge County Detention Facility for months now. Since being detained he’s been unable to continue his work as a chef or pay his bills. Timofeev wants nothing more than to resume the successful life he had been living as an adult.

"I have a Social Security number issued to me by the government," he says. "I've been using the same name, same Social Security number since I've come here. I pay taxes, I pay my bills, I pay my rent in my own name."

His only hope to avoid deportation now is a post-conviction appeal of his marijuana charges from his youth. When he was charged, Timofeev pleaded no contest to all the charges. But there is a catch. He was never told by his attorneys what the ramifications of being charged could mean for him as an immigrant. If he knew, he almost certainly would have fought the charges.

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

Timofeev’s appeal is in process right now. If the appeal is successful, he will marry his fiancée, an American citizen, and continue his life with his family in the U.S. If the appeal is not successful, he’ll be sent back to Russia with no hope of ever coming back into the country.

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

Sources: Isthmus, Time