Rap Sheet Isn’t Automatic Ticket Home

Kevin Amerman, Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania), July 26, 2009

She has 13 felony convictions, a 50-page rap sheet and spent at least 21/2 of her 20 years in the United States behind bars.

While her convictions led to a deportation order last year, Shoumin Chai, a 55-year-old native of China, has been allowed to remain in the country. She is in jail again, this time facing more than 100 charges in an alleged ATM scam at Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem in which authorities say she stole as much as $10,000 from two dozen patrons last month.

Some, including Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli who is prosecuting the case, wonder how someone with so many convictions and an order to leave the country can be allowed to remain here.

Chai, of New York City, received a deportation order in 2008. In accordance with immigration law, she has remained in the country while appealing the order.

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Immigration authorities say convictions do factor into immigration proceedings, but committing a crime doesn’t automatically mean deportation.

Mark Medvesky, a public affairs officer for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said people with green cards have a right to immigration hearings that are separate from their criminal cases. And each is given the opportunity to appeal.

“There’s a certain amount of rights afforded to people, and we’re a country that respects that,” he said. “People who we believe have violated immigration laws have due process. . . . [Chai] has the right to challenge being removed from the country.”

But not everyone thinks immigrants should be able to challenge their status after convictions. Ira Mehlman, spokesman for Federation for American Immigration Reform, an organization in Washington, D.C., that lobbies for tougher immigration laws, says green card holders and illegal immigrants should be kicked out of the country as soon as they’re done serving jail time.

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He said when immigrants obtain green cards, they agree not to commit crimes and a conviction should immediately terminate the visa. His organization’s Web site lists more than 150 “serious crimes of illegal aliens” across the country since May 2004, ranging from drug crimes to rapes to murders.

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Chai came to the United States in 1989 at the age of 35 and obtained a green card that established her as a legal resident, according to Sharon Clay, an attorney with the Office of Immigration Litigation, which is fighting to deport Chai. Authorities say she was committing crimes within three years of entering the country.

Chai was serving a 31-month prison sentence in the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton, N.J., for numerous thefts in Atlantic City, N.J., casinos when immigration officials filed a “charging document” on July 7, 2007, to have her deported, according to Susan Eastwood, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

The immigration judge hearing the case sided with Chai, but the decision was reversed by the Board of Immigration Appeals and a deportation order for Chai was issued on July 17, 2008.

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Chai was arraigned Monday and is jailed under $200,000 bail on 47 felonies and 71 misdemeanors, including fraud, identity theft and receiving stolen property. Police say she stole at least $1,000, but may have taken as much as $10,000. The thefts, which police say occurred over a 13-hour period, went unnoticed by Sands security.

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