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Exporting the American Way of Crime

by Matthew T. Clarke

For well over two hundred years fol-lowing the founding of the United States, foreigners who committed crimes faced imprisonment, execution, fines, parole, and/or probation. Few were deported. Those that were deported were generally infamous criminals or political dissidents. The enactment of the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) in 1996 ushered in a new reality for what the government terms criminal aliens. Since AEDPA's enactment, more than a half million people have been deported under its provisions, most for non-violent offenses. Deportees include those convicted of offenses such as drug possession, car theft, prostitution, and driving while intoxicated, crimes having nothing to do with terrorism.

Many of the deportees have but a fleeting connection to their countries of birth, having immigrated to the U.S. as children. According to the Azores, the only country keeping such statistics, 71% of its arriving deportees emigrated to the U.S. before the age of 13. Another 8% emigrated as teens. Many of the deportees cannot speak the native language and have no close relatives in the country. Such deportees, newly arrived back in a country foreign to them, generally face one of two fates: one bad, the other worse.

Azores officials note that over half the deportees were convicted of selling or using drugs and about one-tenth of the deportees are HIV positive. For them there is a life on the street, hustling drugs and possibly wasting away with AIDS. If they are lucky, relatives in the U.S. send enough money to keep starvation at bay. One such deportee to the Azores, Rene Marquez, 43, who emigrated to the U.S. when he was 12 and became a personal trainer and used-car-dealer, was found living in an overflow pipe for a power plant, wasting away without treatment for his AIDS. His only crime: driving while intoxicated.

The AEDPA applies retroactively. Aliens convicted of crimes before the AEDPA was passed may be hunted down and deported for those crimes, even if the crime was not previously a deportable offense. The only aliens who may challenge this are those who pled guilty to the crime prior to the enactment of the AEDPA. Deportations for crimes which occurred after passage of the AEDFA are virtually unappealable. That is because the AEDPA also eliminated almost all methods of appeal from deportation based on criminal conviction.

Seven countries are bearing the brunt of the deportations: Columbia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, and Mexico. Mexico alone received 340,000 of the deportees. In those seven countries, the number of deportees received to date was as much as, or greater than, their entire national prisoner population.

Many of the deportees are young gang members. Their first reaction upon being tossed into a country with which they have no ties is to form a gang. In many countries, there are enough deportee gang members to form a new "branch" of the U.S. gang. For instance, El Salvador and Honduras now boast large street gangs, originally from Los Angeles, with names such as Mara Dieziocho (the 18th Street gang) and Mara Salvatrucha (the 13th Street gang). These U.S.-bred gangsters find new members plentiful among the poor and unemployed teen-aged natives. The new members are then taught the American way of doing crime. As a result, carjackings, kidnappings, shoot outs, and murders have skyrocketed in the affected countries. For instance, Jamaica, receiver of 10,000 deportees, suffered 600 murders with deportee involvement between April 1998 and January 1999. That's proportionally equal to the U.S. suffering 60,000 such murders. At the same time, deportees were involved in 150 police shoot-outs and 1,700 armed robberies. These exported gangs also get involved in exporting drugs back to the U.S., often in exchange for modern weaponry, such as high-powered pistols with laser sights.

The deportee crime wave has overwhelmed native law enforcement officials. Reaction has ranged from quiet resignation in small, poor countries like Guyana (where 600 deportees arrived in a country of 700,000 people, proportional to loosing 231,000 criminals into the U.S.) to attempts to track them in Europeanized Azores, to more sinister approachesvigilante death squadsin El Salvador and Honduras.

Hugo Omar Barahona was 6 when he emigrated to Los Angeles. Deported to El Salvador at the age of 21, he was shot in the leg and back by two men he believes spotted his American gang tattoos. He survived, but many others did not. For them, the AEDPA imposed a death sentence.

Several countries have asked the U.S. to stop or slow the deportations. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. Guyana tried to refuse the deportees. The U.S. threatened to withhold Guyanese officials' visas. Guyana then buckled under. Only Vietnam and Laos have managed to steadfastly refuse to accept criminal deportees from the U.S.

32.5 million non-citizens live in the United States. 77,000 of them are projected to be AEDPA deportees this year. The crime rate among non-citizens is about half that of the citizen population. Perhaps that is because they are better citizens, but perhaps it is because a minor offense can have severe penaltiesdeportation to a virtually unknown landor even death at the hands of a foreign vigilante. Either way, for the sake of the deportees and their families, the citizens of the other countries, and the overwhelmed foreign law enforcement officials, the policy of wholesale deportations for minor and non-violent offenses should be reconsidered.

Source: Associated Press, The Seattle Times

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