Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Misplaced Vigor

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have been busy deporting violent criminals who are not US citizens. The agency's zeal even extends to those immigrants who are here legally. The problem is that many of those deported haven't committed violent crimes, as this article in today's Los Angeles Times points out.

Federal authorities have repeatedly said their priority is to find and remove illegal immigrants with violent criminal histories, but the U.S. government's stepped-up enforcement in recent years has led to the deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants convicted of nonviolent crimes, according to a new study.

Nearly three-quarters of the roughly 897,000 immigrants deported from 1997 to 2007 after serving criminal sentences were convicted of nonviolent offenses, and one-fifth were legal permanent residents, according to the study released today by Human Rights Watch. ...

The top reasons for deportation during the 10-year period were entering the U.S. illegally, driving while under the influence of alcohol, assault and immigration crimes, such as selling false citizenship papers, the report said.

Many of those deported have lived legally in the US for years, working, paying taxes, buying a home, raising families, yet for a single drunk driving violation, for which the miscreant did jail time, they were shipped out.

The legal grounds for ICE's actions are contained in a law passed in 1996:

The deportations cited in the report occurred after the passage of a 1996 law that mandated the detention and deportation of all immigrants, even those who are longtime lawful residents, if they committed a crime punishable by at least one year behind bars.

The law is retroactive, so immigrants are often deported because of crimes they committed before the law was written.
[Emphasis added]

The problem is that the law as written does not allow for any judicial discretion when it comes to the deportation. The judge may not inquire into community and family ties, nor into the fact that a single violation has stained an otherwise clean legal record.

The effect, of course, is that the "criminal" is punished twice for the crime: he or she has served at least a year behind bars and then is uprooted and deported.

But, hey! They've committed a crime, right? Besides, they're brown and they speak with an accent.

There's something dreadfully wrong with this picture.

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