Thursday, September 8, 2011

New deportation policy hasn't trickled down to BP (Tucson Sentinel)

New deportation policy hasn't trickled down to BP
ICE memo urged that cases be considered carefully

Posted Sep 7, 2011, 10:42 am

Julian Aguilar
The Texas Tribune

When Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced in June it was urging prosecutors to use discretion when placing illegal immigrants in deportation proceedings, skeptics urged caution. We’ve heard this before, they claimed.

People like Roxann Lara give them one more reason to say they were right.

Lara, originally from Delicias, Chihuahua, is five months pregnant and the mother of two U.S. citizen children. She is in the country illegally because she overstayed a visa. Her attorney says she’s the “poster child” for leniency under the June directive.

Instead, Lara was detained and processed by immigration authorities in Anthony, N.M., last week after she admitted to having expired documents when local police and U.S. Border Patrol agents came to the door looking for her sister.

It means the “left hand isn’t aware of what the right hand is doing,” said Carlos Spector, Lara’s El Paso-based attorney. "I think it’s important to note that this [directive] has not reached the lowest levels of ICE... because [Border Patrol agents] are still picking up pregnant women."

In the June directive, ICE Director John Morton told prosecutors to evaluate several factors when determining which illegal immigrants to place in deportation proceedings, part of a plan to concentrate ICE’s finite resources on removing the most dangerous criminal aliens. These factors included the immigrant’s health, their children’s immigration status, how long they had been in the country, and whether or not they were “low profile” — the government’s term for non-violent, non-essential deportees.

That memo was followed last month by an announcement that the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE and Customs and Border Protection, would review the cases of the 300,000 people currently in deportation proceedings to determine if any should be released and subsequently allowed to apply for work authorization

Lara was released from detention, but not until she was hospitalized after becoming panic stricken and physically ill during her stay. She says an agent threatened to deport her to Ciudad Juárez, where drug cartel violence is widespread.

“He said, ‘We have to go get your kids.’ I said ‘No, do what you want with me but leave my kids alone,’” a sobbing Lara told the Tribune by telephone from El Paso. “I told him I was sick and he said it didn’t matter to him.”

Spector said despite Lara's release, she has been issued a notice to appear before a judge. He said he intends to ask the judge to dismiss the case based on the Morton memo.

“The new policy says they shouldn’t pick up pregnant women or sick people," Spector said. "What we want to see and ask is, what does the Border Patrol think of the Morton memo?”

When asked if the Border Patrol has amended its policies since the Morton memo was issued, a spokesman for the U.S. Border Patrol El Paso sector told the Tribune agents are required to detain anyone who is unauthorized to be in the country. They can't give out warnings the way police officers can, he said; the immigration courts are the ones that ultimately make the decisions.

In Lara's case, Agent Ramiro Cordero said, Border Patrol "did exactly what we were supposed to do. If the courts grant that person some type of legal document, then the system works." Cordero added that the Morton memo was directed at federal prosecutors, who are overseen by ICE. U.S. Border Patrol, he said, is under the purview of Customs and Border Protection.

"Until there is policy and guidance from DHS, we still do what we have to do," he said.

'Not a revolutionary concept'
By the government’s own admission, internal policy changes can be slow-going. The agency's plan for reviewing deportation cases is still being crafted, so no individual cases have been closed, according to a Department of Homeland Security spokesman who asked not to be identified.

Immigration policy experts say they’re not surprised that there hasn’t been an immediate and sweeping change in policy. The Morton memo doesn’t reinvent the system, they say.

“Prosecutorial discretion is not new. It’s not a revolutionary concept," said Muzaffar Chishti, an attorney and director of the Migration Policy Institute at the New York University School of Law. "In an immigration context there have been guidelines about discretion for a very long time.”

A prosecutorial discretion memo issued in November 2000 by then-Immigration and Naturalization Services Commissioner Doris Meissner, now a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, said the agency had finite resources, and prosecuting all immigration cases was “not possible.” It instructed prosecutors to consider immigrants' criminal history, immigration history, cooperation with authorities, military service and humanitarian concerns, like conditions in the peron's home country and their health.

But when the Morton memo was issued in June, it still caused an uproar among Republican hardliners like U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, who called it “backdoor amnesty” and introduced a still-pending bill to dilute the administration’s immigration enforcement powers.

What's different about the agency's current policy, Chishti said, is that the government has stated it will review pending cases, not just use new standards for future ones. But he said it’s unclear how these policies will be implemented at the local level.

“The most critical part of this policy is going to be how they monitor it in the field,” Chishti said. “How are you going to notify people... and what is the accountability if an officer chooses not to exercise the discretion on the basis of the guidelines?"

Lara’s case indicates that, at least in certain Border Patrol sectors, the jury is still out.

Local immigrant won't be deported (Winston-Salem Journal)

Local immigrant won't be deported
By: BERTRAND M. GUTIERREZ | Winston-Salem Journal
Published: September 07, 2011

Federal authorities have opted not to initiate deportation proceedings against Yadkin County resident Martin Rodriguez and at least six other immigrants arrested during a rally in Charlotte this week, immigration attorneys and jail officials said Wednesday.

But Rodriguez, who is not authorized to be in the United States, remained in the Mecklenburg County Jail on Wednesday evening on misdemeanor charges related to the rally because he refused to sign paperwork for his own release, said jail officials, citing a note in Rodriguez's file from the magistrate.

It is unclear why Rodriguez refused to sign the paperwork. His sister, Silvia Rodriguez, 18, who heard about her brother's refusal from a reporter, guessed that he may have done it as a sign of solidarity with others who were arrested.

"Do you know if everyone is getting released? It could be that he doesn't want to come out until everyone comes out," she said.

Martin Rodriguez, 20, was one of 15 protesters arrested Tuesday after they and a crowd of about 300 protesters held a sit-in rally near Central Piedmont Community College. Most were initially charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct and impeding traffic, police said.

If Rodriguez does not sign paperwork to get out of jail, he could stay there until his misdemeanor charges are heard in court. A court date was not available Wednesday afternoon on the jail website.

His immigration status and misdemeanor charges are separate matters because being in the U.S. without authorization is a civil offense, not a criminal offense, and it is handled by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Ivan Ortiz-Delgado, an ICE spokesman, explained why the federal agency sometimes opts not to detain illegal immigrants.

"ICE is focused on sensible, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes efforts first on those serious criminal aliens who present the greatest risk to the security of our communities, not sweeps or raids to target undocumented immigrants indiscriminately," Ortiz-Delgado said in an email.

Following a directive written in a letter dated June 17 from ICE Director John Morton and publicly supported by President Barack Obama last month, the immigration agency has been exercising prosecutorial discretion on a case-by-case basis.

Helen Parsonage, a Winston-Salem immigration attorney helping with some of the cases, said ICE's decision to forgo deportation proceedings against Rodriguez is a sign that the Morton letter is filtering through the agency.

"This is a huge sea change to me — to see undocumented migrants being arrested and not put in deportation proceedings is such a relief, especially after the last couple of years when people have been deported after being in a traffic stop," Parsonage said. "Finally, there seems to be some sanity and balance about who we deport and who we don't."

Rodriguez was a good student, is an active church member and had never gotten in trouble with the law, according to his priest and former teachers.

"He was a well-above-average student — almost had 100 average in the class I taught, which was an upper-level math class," said Stephen Brown, his teacher at Starmount High School in Boonville.

Principal Junior Luffman echoed that sentiment.

"He was never a problem in school. He didn't get in any trouble. He was very respectful and followed the rules," he said.

The Rev. Jose Enrique Gonzalez, who is the pastor at Divine Redeemer Parish in Boonville, said in Spanish that Rodriguez does a lot of work with the church's youth group.

"I hope he can fix his situation, and I hope I can see him back at church soon," Gonzalez said. "He is doing this not just for himself but for others who are also going through the same challenges."

The rally and subsequent arrests were aimed at raising awareness about immigrants such as Rodriguez, who was brought to the U.S. from Mexico as a toddler and has grown up here. They want Congress to pass legislation known as the Dream Act, which would allow young, educated immigrants to correct their immigration status and go to college or join the military.

Ten of the 15 arrested are not authorized to be in the U.S., according to the N.C. Dream Team, the advocacy group that organized the rally.

Parsonage was helping with seven of the immigration cases. On Wednesday evening, it was still unclear whether ICE officials had opened deportation proceedings against the other three immigrants.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Charge dismissed in Hailey stabbing case (Idaho Mountain Express)

Charge dismissed in Hailey stabbing case
Defendant released from jail to immigration agents
Express Staff Writer

A jury trial was scheduled to begin Tuesday in Blaine County 5th District Court on a Hailey stabbing case, but the charge of aggravated battery was dismissed against the defendant late last week.

But for Alberto Romero-Torres, a 21-year-old former Hailey resident, that doesn't mean he was released from jail. Instead, he was turned over Tuesday to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency because it had filed an immigration detainer on him when he was arrested in March.

"When a charge is dismissed and a detainer is in place, the detainer is still valid," Blaine County Jail Administrator Lt. Jay Davis said Tuesday.

The reason for the dismissal is not clear and the Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney's Office declined Tuesday to elaborate.

The case against Romero-Torres arose on March 13 when Hailey police were called to St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center to investigate what appeared to be stab and slash wounds on 21-year-old Erika M. Ruiz, who police reported was living with Romero-Torres at the Balmoral apartment complex in Hailey.

A probable-cause affidavit filed in March by Hailey Patrolman Shane Manning states that he interviewed Ruiz at the hospital and she told him she was stabbed in the stomach and slashed on the arm by Romero-Torres during an argument earlier that day. Later that month, Ruiz testified before a Blaine County grand jury, leading to an indictment against Romero-Torres on a charge of aggravated battery.

Romero-Torres had been incarcerated in the Blaine County jail since his arrest on March 17. Hailey police reported then that he voluntarily turned himself in after he found out an arrest warrant had been issued for him.

Though a no-contact order was issued against Romero-Torres, prohibiting him from talking to Ruiz, the couple had allegedly been having telephone conversations while he was in jail.

On Aug. 26, Ruiz was arrested on a felony charge of unauthorized use of a financial transaction card, which police allege she used to transfer funds to the jail telephone account of Romero-Torres and another jail inmate.

Days later, the case against Romero-Torres was dropped. A motion to dismiss filed on Aug. 29 by the Prosecuting Attorney's Office states that a "post-indictment investigation has revealed evidence that seriously calls into question the events leading to the indictment."

"This evidence has led to the state's decision that the dismissal would serve the ends of justice," the motion states.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Fredback declined to elaborate to the Idaho Mountain Express on why the charges were dropped and what might have happened the night Ruiz went to the hospital.

"The motion to dismiss is going to have to speak for itself," Fredback wrote in an email. "I do not believe it is appropriate to provide further explanation for the dismissal."

Hailey attorney Keith Roark was assigned to represent Romero-Torres in the stabbing case under the Roark Law Firm's public defender contract with Blaine County.

Deportation splits family (The Spectrum)

Deportation splits family
Cedar City businessman sent away; wife, 5 kids left without income

Nur Kausar
9:09 AM, Sep. 7, 2011

A two-day fugitive operation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement went smoothly for the agency in Southern Utah last month, but it also painfully disrupted the livelihood of at least one family that is now trying its hardest to reunite.

ICE Fugitive Operations officers arrested Augusto Raymundo Jesus, 38, at his Cedar City home in front of his wife, Kacie, and five children, leaving them without a breadwinner. Jesus was deported Aug. 30 to Guatemala, returning to the country he left 22 years ago.

According to the ICE website, Fugitive Operations Teams like the one in Southern Utah last month started in 2003 to dramatically expand the agencys efforts to locate, arrest and remove fugitives from the United States. ICE officers arrested 18 others during the two-day blitz. Nine had prior criminal convictions, and 13 had outstanding orders of removal from the country.

Jesus had both, making him a priority when the operation occurred, said Virginia Kice, ICE western regional communications director and spokesperson.

Kacie says ICE should have taken a case-by-case approach to the arrests, as her husband had a family to take care of, ran a contracting business, paid his taxes, hired employees and obeyed all laws in the 13 years she knew him.

"While we both believe in obeying the laws it is inhumane and cruel to just take a father and husband away unannounced when he is the sole support to (six) American citizens," Kacie said in a message. "The government now has to support Rays family (us). There are a lot of bad illegals here that need to be deported, not Ray. This is not a smart solution for this problem."

However, according to ICE, Jesus did not obey the law before he got married in 2001, and it came back to bite him.

In 1993, an immigration judge in San Diego found that Jesus had no legal basis to remain in the United States and gave him 90 days to leave the country, Kice said.

Jesus appealed the judges decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals, and in 1998, the board upheld the lower courts decision and gave Jesus 30 days to voluntarily depart, she said. "When he failed to do so, he became subject to a final order of removal."

Misdemeanor convictions, including two DUIs, did not help his case, and now Jesus options might be to wait until he is eligible to apply for legal entry to the United States or for his children to sponsor him when one turns 21 Ñ in 10 years.

Kacie said her husband never received the boards notice to her knowledge, and Jesus was under the impression that he could remain here legally until 2004.

Kacie noted she and Jesus tried to seek citizenship for him in 2004 but were told by an attorney that because of his order for removal, Jesus would have to leave the United States for one year, return to Guatemala, apply to return and still only have a 50 percent chance of being allowed back in.

"Hes a good guy. He wouldnt just up and leave his wife and kids," Kacie said, so he stayed, hoping the laws would change and not punish him for his decision to support his family.

Unfortunately, said advocate Luis Espinoza Munoz with Community Aid and Immigrant Services, thats not how the current laws work.

"You have to put all your ducks in a row," Espinoza said. "The nice thing is all the rules are written down, but its cut and dry. And many times, my clients have no idea what to do."

That may have been the case here, Espinoza said, as is with many cases he sees as an immigration advocate for 16 years.

The other problem, Espinoza noted, is the inefficiency of the immigration system. Attorneys sometimes charge upwards of $40,000, unrealistic for some immigrants, and the process itself could take years.

With Jesus criminal record, even if from a distant past, time and money will be needed before he could be reunited with his family.

For now, Kacie said she is in the process of looking for an attorney and for somewhere to live because she is losing her home and is trying to sell her husbands truck. She has not worked in 12 years and stays at home with her children that range in age from 6 months old to 11 years. The couple has an autistic son who requires much of her attention, she said.

Of Jesus, Kacie said, "Hes a mess. He misses his kids. Hes in shock because he has only the clothes on his back."

Jesus reunited with his parents in Guatemala and talks to his wife approximately once a week.

His Cedar City business, Rays Quality Framing, will have to close because his contractor license is up for renewal in November, but he isnt here to renew and employees are already finding other employment, she said.

The Ray Jesus Legal Defense Fund has been set up at State Bank of Utah to help the family with expenses. Donations are accepted at any branch.

Immigrants arrested at 'coming out' rally (Charlotte Observer)

Immigrants arrested at 'coming out' rally
About 200 people speak out about policies they say discriminate against the undocumented among them.

By Franco Ordoñez
Posted: Wednesday, Sep. 07, 2011

Police arrested at least 10 young illegal immigrants as they blocked traffic near Central Piedmont Community College Tuesday to protest policies they say discriminate against undocumented immigrants.

Nearly 200 people met on CPCC's central campus for a 1 p.m. "coming out" rally in which some protesters publicly announced they're living in the country illegally.

The group then marched around the school toward the intersection of Kings Drive and Fourth Street. The large group proceeded to block all four directions of traffic while chanting "education, not deportation" and "undocumented and unafraid."

As Charlotte-Mecklenburg police converged on the group, seven young people stepped into the middle of the intersection. One 25-year-old from Carrboro grabbed a bullhorn and announced:

"My name is Alicia Torres and I'm risking it all. Today is the day that I am coming out of the shadows and saying I exist. I am no longer going to be afraid. I am no longer going to wait around and watch my mom pray."

Before she could finish, officers encircled Torres, grabbed her arms and handcuffed her.

The protest was the latest in a series of rallies where undocumented students announced their status publicly to raise awareness.

The Tuesday protest was organized by the N.C. Dream Team, a Raleigh-based group of students, most of whom live in the country illegally. They called for passage of the Dream Act - legislation that would provide a path to legalization for some young people brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents. The bill has been introduced several times in Congress without success.

The students are known for their aggressive tactics. They have organized rallies and hunger strikes. They've confronted legislators. This spring, they took part in a similar protest in Atlanta where two of their members were arrested and later released.

A total of 15 people were arrested at the Charlotte demonstration. Police said all were charged with impeding traffic and disorderly conduct. Two were also charged with violation of the noise ordinance.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Capt. J.W. Estes said their main goal was to protect the protesters. He said there was no violence and no one was hurt.

"They just wanted to get their point across," he said. "We understand their efforts, but we have to enforce the law. We can't take sides."

According to organizers, the following undocumented students were arrested, in addition to Torres: Angelica Velazquillo, 25, of Charlotte; Manuel Vazquez, 21, of Raleigh; Santiago Garcia, 20, of Asheville; Cynthia Martinez, 20, of Sanford; Viridiana Martinez of Sanford; Martin Rodriguez, 20, of Hamptonville, N.C.; Isabel Castillo, 26, of Harrisonburg, Va.; Mohammad Abdollahi; and Marco Saavedra, 21, of Cincinnati.

All the arrested individuals were taken to the Mecklenburg County Jail for processing. The sheriff's office said individuals identified as being in the country illegally will be turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Advocates for stricter enforcement say giving these students a path to legalization would only give illegal immigrants further incentive to break the nation's laws and create more competition for legal residents.

This will be one of the first chances to see how a new Obama administration policy on illegal immigrants is implemented. The administration announced last month that those without criminal records - who are found to be a low priority because they are students, were brought here as children or have long family ties to the country - would be released and granted work permits.

Organizers of Tuesday's rally said it was not a coincidence that the protest is occurring one year before the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. Just minutes before she was arrested, Viridiana Martinez said the Democratic Party has given the immigrant community false hope. It needs to be held accountable for failing to follow through with its promises, she said.

Angelica Velazquillo, who graduated from South Mecklenburg High School and Belmont Abbey College, knew she was risking deportation Tuesday. She graduated magna cum laude with a degree in psychology, but says she's can't work in her field because of her status.

Her brother, Erick Velazquillo, was arrested last fall for driving without a valid license. He faced deportation until the N.C. Dream Team launched a public awareness campaign on his behalf. His case was administratively closed, but he could still be deported. He was not given a work permit.

"I'm doing this because I'm tired of hearing wonderful words," she said at the rally. "The reality is, nothing is going to happen. This is a way of reminding our community that we're here. ... If I'm going to be deported, I'm going to do it because of the injustice my community is facing."

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Suspected Undocumenteds Detained after Boat Is Spotted Off Leo Carrillo (Malibu Surfside News)

Suspected Undocumenteds Detained after Boat Is Spotted Off Leo Carrillo

• Ten Taken into Custody Had Scattered in Parkland after Being Dropped Off near the Beach


Eight men and two women who are Mexican nationals were detained last Friday after a boat that may have been engaged in illegal human trafficking was spotted offshore in western Malibu.

An interagency law enforcement investigation got underway at about 8:30 a.m. when an empty 25-foot boat—the type of fishing craft referred to as a panga—washed ashore near Leo Carrillo State Beach.

Pangas have become the vessels of choice for the smuggling of human cargo and drugs along the Southern California coast as illegal land crossing at the Mexican border has become increasingly difficult and dangerous.

The interagency team, including Los Angeles and Ventura county sheriff's departments, state park rangers, local county firefighters, helicopter units and the Ventura office of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency joined the effort.

After several hours of combing the rugged brush in Leo Carrillo State Park, the 10 suspected undocumenteds were found several miles from the beach. They were dehydrated but otherwise had come through 15 hours at sea and what may have been a rough disembarking relatively unscathed.

Although there were reports that there were other passengers loose in the area, no additional people were found.

Last Friday's incident was the sixth in a series of suspected smuggling occurrences reported at or near the Malibu-Ventura County line in recent months.

In July, 15 suspected undocumented immigrants were discovered on Santa Cruz Island, where they reportedly were abandoned by a smuggler.

In late June, a group of suspected undocumenteds was found in Malibu.

In March, suspected smugglers and more than a ton of marijuana were found on Santa Rosa Island after their boat reportedly ran out of gas.

Agency officials decline to speculate how many boat trips are successfully completed.

A dozen or so immigrants and a few crew members is the usual load carried by a boat. Travelers pay as much as $5000-$7000 for the arduous trip on the high seas.

Smugglers will often unload immigrants in dangerous circumstances to avoid being caught with them on board.

ICE has issued alerts asking passersby to call 911 to report suspicious activity along the western Malibu coast. However, the craft often travel without lights, usually arrive in the pre-dawn hours, and may not be readily visible to motorists.

Agency spokespersons indicate that they expect sea smuggling to increase as land border enforcement becomes more stringent.

A major concern is that, in addition to human cargo, there is narcotics trafficking. It has been confirmed that some passengers cover part or all of the pricey journey by acting as mules, or couriers, for drug dealers.

Grand America Hotel fires employees over lack of work documentation (KSTU-UT)

Grand America Hotel fires employees over lack of work documentation
Reports say layoffs near 120 employees
8:51 a.m. MDT, September 1, 2011

Some reports say 120 employees have been laid off at the Grand America Hotel after an audit report found several of their workers did not have current validation to work in the United States.

Hotel president Bruce Fery said in a statement Wednesday the Grand America is not alone and audits are being conducted statewide. He says that the employees that were found with invalid documentation had "presented facially valid documents when they were hired."

Fery goes on to say in the statement: "Over the last several months some of those without proper documentation were able to update their information to satisfy DHS and continue their employment. Earlier this month DHS notified the hotel that those who had not been able to document their right to work in the United States could no longer be employed after today."

The hotel is not confirming how many lost their jobs because of the audit.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a statement that could be interpreted as critical of Grand America saying: “Responsible employers who seek to conduct their business lawfully are put at an unfair disadvantage as they try to compete with unscrupulous businesses. Such businesses gain a competitive edge by paying illegal alien workers low wages or otherwise exploiting them.”

The recent layoffs come as Utahns and local politicians are debating whether to allow undocumented workers to remain.

FOX 13 talked with various members of state government and they all say the audit is a federal action.

Mistake raid shocks disabled veteran in San Benito (KGBT-TX)

Mistake raid shocks disabled veteran in San Benito
by Amber Dixon
Posted: 08.31.2011 at 11:16 PM

Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided the home of disabled veteran Alfredo Lopez last week.

Although they did not find anything, 60-year-old Lopez said the scare he got gave him severe heart palpitations.

He stayed in the hospital two days.

Alfredo Lopez said he was showering when Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents surrounded his home.

He said he got out of his shower and saw an ICE agent outside his bathroom window.

With no shirt on, Lopez shuffled to the front door.

Lopez uses a cane after an aneurysm paralyzed his left side.

“I mean seeing those guys took the breath out of me,” said Lopez.

Lopez said ICE agents were looking for illegal immigrants.

"I said you're welcome to come in and check,” said Lopez. “Because I mean I was surprised. Where in the heck would there be any illegals here?"

Lopez said agents searched every room and even his shed.

He said they came up empty-handed and apologized.

“They need better intelligence,” Lopez said.

The shock of the raid affected Lopez’s health.

“My blood pressure has gone up, and I think I got scared,” said Lopez.

After spending two days in the hospital, Lopez now wears a heart monitor.

In a week, he'll go back to the doctor to make sure his heart is beating at a safe rate.

Lopez said he no longer feels safe in his home.

Action 4 News asked ICE why Lopez's home was raided, and if ICE agents conduct raids differently when a disabled person is involved.

They issued the following statement:

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) welcomes feedback from members of the public, especially regarding their involvement with recent ICE HSI operations.

ICE is able to most efficiently look into complaints when they are brought directly to our attention.

ICE HSI special agents conduct operations on a daily basis based on leads that we receive from various sources.

ICE is committed to conducting safe and secure operations with the public’s welfare being paramount.”

Lopez said his health was not taken into consideration.

Federal deportation review comes too late for some (CNN)

Federal deportation review comes too late for some
By Sarah Hoye, CNN
September 1, 2011 8:38 a.m. EDT

Philadelphia (CNN) -- Last September, Ana Maria Cruz waited in her minivan outside an immigration office, clutching her fiance's keys, wallet and cell phone.

Cruz, then eight months pregnant and with two of the couple's other children in tow, began to worry when Chally Dang took longer than usual to emerge from what should have been a routine check-in with immigration officials.

"I sat there for about an hour because I didn't know what to do," Cruz said. "Then he collect-called me to say they weren't letting him go."

For the next nine months, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials held Dang and three other Cambodian-Americans -- all legal permanent residents who had come to the United States as child refugees.

In June, they sent Dang to Cambodia. Each of the men detained last September had committed a crime that carried a retroactive removal order. That allows them to be deported at any time, regardless of when the crime was committed.

Dang, now 29, was arrested when he was 15, after he fired an illegal handgun into the air. Although no one was injured, Dang was charged in 1997 with aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy and possessing criminal instruments.

He was sentenced to 5½ years in prison. Despite having served his prison time, under 1996 immigration laws, he could be deported back to Cambodia -- a country he had never seen -- without a hearing in front of an immigration judge.

Dang's situation is not uncommon, and it is becoming part of the growing debate over immigration reform in the United States.

In a move that could shake up the U.S. immigration system, the Department of Homeland Security said the government would review about 300,000 deportation cases pending in federal immigration courts.Lower-priority cases -- those not involving people considered violent or otherwise dangerous -- would be suspended under the new criteria.

Federal authorities are still hashing out details of how the cases will be reviewed, a senior Department of Homeland Security official said last week.

For Cruz and Dang, the announcement comes too late for them to tell their story.

Ana Marie Cruz's fiance, a legal resident and father of her children, was deported for a crime he committed 14 years ago.

Cruz maintains that her fiance -- now a world away in Cambodia -- had turned his life around after serving his time in prison and deserved to stay in the United States."

They should give Americans, refugees and permanent residents who have reformed (themselves) chances to prove that they are of good character, regardless of any mistakes that they have made in their past," she said. "Just because someone made one mistake, especially in their youth, doesn't label them a criminal for life. People change, and people learn."

One of five children, Dang was born in Kamput refugee camp in Thailand, after his parents escaped the "killing fields" in the Southeast Asian nation of Cambodia, where at least 1.7 million people died under the 1970s Khmer Rouge regime.

Shortly after Dang was born, his father separated from his mother while awaiting sponsorship. His family entered the United States in 1983 and settled in crime-ridden North Philadelphia, where his mother remarried and gave birth to her youngest son.

The cash-strapped family moved from apartment to apartment, and a strained home life left him finding solace among other refugee kids in the neighborhood."

Truancy became regular, and schoolwork was out of the question," Dang wrote in a letter on December 4, 2010, while he was being detained in York County Prison. "That's when the downhill became even steeper."

He was expelled multiple times from school for his disruptive behavior and eventually joined an Asian gang.

Dang hit rock bottom in 1997 when a rival gang spotted him and a friend in North Philadelphia. According to Dang, the rivals threw bottles and rocks at the car he was in, and his friend handed him a gun."

I recklessly fired a few rounds in their proximity," he wrote.

Dang spent his high school years behind bars, where he obtained his GED. When he was paroled in 2003, Dang, then 21, was taken into ICE custody and given a final order of deportation.

But Cambodia was not accepting deportees from the U.S., so he was allowed to stay here under ICE supervision. After six months, he was granted supervised release.

"Regret is one of many effusive links composing a chain that binds me to my past," he wrote. "The actions of my past still haunt me."

Vowing never to repeat the mistakes of his past, Dang started a family, earned a living working for a vending company, committed no crimes after his release and regularly checked in with immigration officials.

"It's hard for me because we built a life together, and I feel like it was ripped apart," Cruz said. "It's a life-changing thing."

Cruz, 28, gave birth to the couple's daughter, Farrah, a month after Dang was detained.

Agency officials say immigrants who commit these crimes must be removed even if, like Dang, they have a green card.

Dang's freedom lasted seven years.

Mia-lia Kiernan, who helped launch a Philadelphia grass-roots organization dedicated to keeping immigrant families living together, is at odds with the DHS immigration announcement.

Kiernan and family members of the detained and deported started the One Love Movement to help them fight for individualized reviews of their deportation orders -- including that of Dang.

The very government that gave Dang shelter targeted him and other refugees with criminal histories, Kiernan said.

"People really need to think about the title 'criminal alien' and who gets left behind," she said. "We're creating a generation of young people forced to grow up without parents."

By law, deportation is mandatory for anyone not a U.S. citizen who commits an "aggravated felony," a broad category of crimes ranging from shoplifting to murder that carry sentences of at least one year of imprisonment, said Sin Yen Ling, a senior staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco.

"Because of their immigration status, they're penalized," said Ling, an immigration attorney who handles nearly 50 aggravated felony cases a year."

There's no bail, no bond, it's mandatory deportation. Even if you were to get a sympathetic judge, their hands are tied. By law, it takes away the ability to review individual cases."

Federal immigration officials are simply prioritizing their resources on criminal aliens who present the greatest risk to the security of our communities, according to ICE spokeswoman Nicole Navas.

In 2010, ICE announced record-breaking illegal immigration enforcement numbers under the Obama administration, including unprecedented numbers of "convicted criminal alien removals."

Half of the individuals removed from the United States -- more than 195,000 people -- were convicted criminals, a 70% increase, according to ICE.

"Everybody in their right mind would think that criminal aliens should be removed," said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

"No, it's not harsh. Coming as an immigrant is a privilege, and we expect that you stay out of trouble."

Philadelphia immigration attorney Caitlin Barry says the broad definition of "aggravated felony" and the retroactive application of the law have created a constant stream of criminal deportation cases.

Although Dang was released under ICE supervision, a removal order remained in effect. He was allowed to re-enter the community and make a life for himself because at the time, Cambodia was not issuing visas to deportees from the United States, Barry said.

"Unfortunately, as soon as those visas to Cambodia became available, Chally was rounded up with the other guys and sent to Cambodia," Barry said. "Chally's case is the perfect illustration of how severe these laws have gotten."

Because of Dang's deportation, Cruz has found herself a single mother of four, struggling to make ends meet while working as a receptionist at a Philadelphia law firm.

She has sold household items and the family vehicle to pay the bills. She has also applied for welfare and other government assistance to feed her children.

"What I've experienced, I wouldn't want any other family to have to go through," said Cruz, a permanent resident who came to the United States as an infant from the Philippines. "I want that law to be taken and thrown in the garbage because it does nothing, it doesn't make anything better."

The deportations are a disservice to those who have come out of the system and changed their lives, said Kiernan, the One Love Movement co-founder.

"I don't believe that refugees should be subject to deportation, period. That's not their home anymore. They came here, this is their home," Kiernan said.

"Everyday families are being broken apart, and every day, there are children suffering without a parent."

While Cruz tidied up her home after hosting a One Love meeting on a recent Saturday, she paused and looked at her children coloring quietly in their sparse living room.

"They made me a single mother," Cruz said. "It touches everyone involved."