According to official figures, as of late January 2004, more than 63,000 immigrants have been detained over the past year. However, leading immigration attorney, Richard Iandoli, estimates it at about 100,000. Of those numbers, the Department of Homeland Security, says it has already deported as many as 70 percent, most of them being legal residents.
On Sept 30, 1996, a new immigration act was introduced called the “Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.” This act allows for the deportation—or removal—of any alien—illegal, legal and non-immigrant—convicted of a misdemeanor or felony that carries a punishment of at least one year in jail, regardless of whether they served the sentence or it was reduced to simple probation.
The most disturbing parts of this act are that the law is retroactive and that the definition of “felony” has been expanded.
The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services states that the “primary purpose of the 1996 amendment was to expand laws regarding the removal/deportation of criminal aliens,” no matter when the crime was committed, expanding a whole class of people who are now deportable. People who committed a crime in the 1970s are already facing deportation without hope of appeal. “They are putting a more serious penalty on something that a person has already done,” said defense Attorney Ricardo M. Barros.
If a legal immigrant had done a crime years and years ago, paid his penalty in jail or probation, they now have to worry about being deported even if it was 20 years ago. “If you commit one of these crimes and you are married to a United States citizen, there used to be a waiver appeal because of the marriage. That has been struck; you don’t have that process anymore. It does not matter if you have four children who are American citizens or not . . . The waiver, the relief that legal immigrants got, has been eliminated.”
Moreover, prior to the introduction of this law, a legal immigrant could face deportation if he had been convicted of an aggravated felony which meant murder, any illicit trafficking, including firearms, money laundering, or any crime or violence for which a prison term of 5 years or more was imposed. The new Immigration Act has changed all that. The meaning of “aggravated felony” for immigration purposes has changed and it now includes less serious crimes such as: shoplifting, driving under the influence, fraud, burglary minor technical violations of immigration law -such as failure to update addresses and other required information within mandated deadlines- and many other misdemeanors where a one-year sentence or imprisonment was ordered by the court regardless of any suspension or withholding of execution.
The definition of aggravated felony was also made retroactive, so that someone with a conviction twenty years ago that was not grounds for deportation when the crime was committed is now deportable without any possible relief, even though they may have lived an exemplary life ever since.
Although the law was introduced under former President Bill Clinton’s administration, the law was unevenly enforced until after the 9/11 catastrophe. Since them all those arrested are held without bond until a deportation hearing or until they waive their rights to such a hearing -if the crime was committed after the act was enacted, the right of a hearing is waived.
Many of the legal residents apprehended had been living quite, law-abiding lives for many years. However, they now face removal charges for a crime they committed sometimes decades ago and which a penalty has already been paid. The old saying: “they’ve paid their debt to society,” doesn’t apply to them, simply because they aren’t US citizens.
Overall, the act is a massive and complicated piece of legislation which curtails and in most cases ends the US life for an alien, and in numerous cases causes extreme hardship and undue separation of families.
Not too many articles have been written about this critical reality that many immigrants—including Hispanics- are now facing. Since mid-2002, a massive deportation of legal resident aliens has occurred. Are we going to let this continue? Find out where the presidential candidate—J. F. Kerry- stands on this issue. Write to your congressmen and ask for their support.