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ICE Policies and U.S. Deportation Laws Violate Human Rights

A 64-page report issued last year by Human Rights Watch (HRW), a non-profit watchdog organization, indicates that changes in U.S. deportation laws implemented by Congress in 1996 are mostly targeting immigrants who commit nonviolent crimes.

Statistical data accumulated from 1997 through mid-2007 show that approximately 897,000 immigrants, both legal and illegal, were deported from the U.S due to criminal offenses. Of those, only 28 percent had been convicted of violent crimes while 72 percent committed nonviolent crimes.

Specifically, 34 percent of the deportees were charged with nonviolent immigration offenses, 24 percent for nonviolent drug offenses, 8 percent for nonviolent theft and 6 percent for nonviolent general offenses.

Of those deported, almost 180,000 were legal residents in the U.S. and were returned to their home countries after serving their prison sentences. The non-citizens legally present at the time of their deportation left behind an estimated 436,852 family members. The HRW report uses the word “tragic” to describe “lawful permanent residents ... forced to confront life without [their] fathers, mothers, children, husbands, or wives” following deportation.

More punitive immigration laws, enacted by Congress in 1996 and implemented in 1997, expanded the list of offenses for which non-citizens could be removed from the U.S. That same legislation also tied the hands of judges who previously had some discretion in deciding which immigrant offenders would be allowed to stay.

Thirty-year immigration judge James P. Vandello was sympathetic to the pre-1996, more lenient immigration laws. Comparing those laws to current ones, Judge Vandello said, “I have [in the past] been able to unite or re-unite families. On the other hand, in many [current] cases I have had to deal with the frustration of not being able to grant relief to someone because of the precise requirements of the statute, even though on a personal level he appears to be worthy of some immigration benefit.”

By contrast, openly xenophobic Republican congressman Steve King embodies the excessively punitive nature of current deportation laws. The HRW study quotes King’s “ill-informed” ideas, presented before Congress, as an example of what he called a “... slow-rolling, slow-motion terrorist attack on the United States costing us billions of dollars and, in fact, thousands of lives ....” King backed up his rhetoric with statements suggesting that non-citizens are responsible for 12 murders, 13 negligent deaths and 8 child molestations a day.

The HRW report also calls attention to television personality Bill O’Reilly, who used his program on Fox News Net-work to inform viewers that illegal immigrants have placed the U.S. on the “tipping point” of “anarchy.”

ICE officials have made their own significant contributions to misinformation about non-citizens facing deportation. The HRW study required 2½ years of wrangling with ICE to obtain the data presented in the report. The first request for information, made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), was sent to ICE on March 15, 2006.

ICE officials initially refused to produce any information, stating it would significantly disrupt the agency’s operations. When they finally released the requested data in August 2008, it was learned that ICE’s records were woefully incomplete in almost every category. Even after taking more than two years to respond, over 26 percent of the records released by ICE for the HRW study “contain[ed] no crime data.”

ICE has combined secrecy with deception by releasing press updates suggesting that the majority of deportations involve violent criminals, when the truth is precisely the opposite.
Current immigration legislation combined with unethical ICE practices places the deportation policies of the U.S. crosswise with international human rights laws. For example, PLN previously reported ICE’s practice of illegally drugging deportees when sending them back to their home country. [See: PLN, Jan. 2009, p.10].

More recently, ICE officials misreported the number of deaths in detention facilities in two separate reports. [See: PLN, Nov. 2009, p.26; Sept. 2008, p.30]. Now, according to Human Rights Watch, ICE’s reluctance to release information concerning the agency’s deportation practices “suggests at best a lack of commitment to transparency and ... at worst it suggests deliberate stonewalling.”

HRW acknowledges that non-citizens have an obligation to adhere to the laws of this country. However, the organization suggests that U.S. laws governing immigration should comply with the articles of the United Nations, which call for deportation decisions to be based “... on the potential danger to the community [and] necessarily requires an examination of the circumstances of the refugee as well as the particulars of the specific offence.”

In the words of Judge Harry Pregerson, “I pray that soon the good men and women in our Congress will ameliorate the plight of [immigrant] families ... and give us humane laws that will not cause the disintegration of such families.”

Unfortunately, Judge Pregerson’s heartfelt prayer was the dissenting opinion in Memije v. Gonzales, 481 F.3d 1163 (9th Cir. 2007), voiced in opposition to the “harsh conclusion” of the majority ruling, which held that the appellate courts lack jurisdiction to review certain deportation decisions. Memije involved the deportation of two undocumented immigrants, a husband and wife, who faced separation from their four children, ages 6 to 17, who were U.S. citizens.

Source: “Forced Apart (By the Numbers): Non-Citizens Deported Mostly for Nonviolent Offenses” (Human Rights Watch, April 2009)

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