Immigrant’s Choice—Prison or Deportation

Lance Williams, San Francisco Chronicle Staff, July 27, 2008

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According to immigration experts, Rahimi’s [Obaidullah “Chito” Rahimi, convicted Afghani sex criminal] dilemma is an extreme example of the choice confronting more than 90,000 immigrants who face removal from the United States each year because they have been implicated in crimes.

Experts say a combination of tougher laws and improved technology for computer background checks has led to a surge in deportation orders for immigrants who commit crimes in the United States—even misdemeanors, as in Rahimi’s case.

Once detained, many immigrants simply agree to be sent home to avoid jail, the experts say. Others who contest deportation have their cases heard relatively quickly or are freed on bail while cases are pending. But sometimes when an immigrant appeals a deportation order, he can spend years in jail while the case is litigated.

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Conflicting claims

In court, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement attorneys have portrayed Rahimi’s case as open and shut. In the 1990s, Congress toughened immigration laws, adding many crimes to the list of deportable offenses. Because he was convicted of having sex with a minor, Rahimi has no right to remain in the United States, the government says—and no right to post bail while he appeals.

Government lawyers in Rahimi’s case also have disputed his claim that he faces danger in Afghanistan, instead portraying the country as relatively peaceful and stable since U.S. forces overthrew the Taliban government seven years ago.

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Nor does Rahimi’s plight elicit any sympathy from the mother of the former girlfriend.

Informed of the case by The Chronicle, the woman, who asked not to be quoted by name, said Rahimi was now “getting what he deserved.” She said she believed he had gotten off too easily when arrested in 1997.

“If it was your daughter, you’d feel the same,” she said.

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