Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Kids pay for 'debt' immigrant dad already paid (Houston Chronicle)

Kids pay for 'debt' immigrant dad already paid

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Oct. 8, 2008, 12:01AM

LYDIA'S husband, the father of her three small children, went off one day to apply for U.S. citizenship.

He never came home.

Instead, the U.S. government detained him, quickly shipped him to a prison in Georgia for a few months and then, after a hearing before a judge, flew him to the border and marched him across the bridge to Reynosa, Mexico, near McAllen.

Then it got worse. Lydia says she received a call from a man identifying himself as a member of the notorious Zeta drug gang. He said either she would send $5,000 or her husband's body would be found in a river.

I was unable to confirm the kidnapping. Lydia and her husband's brother said the contacts were by phone, and the calls weren't recorded.

He should have waited
But because they said the kidnappers told them not to talk to anyone about the matter, the names I'm using here are not real ones.

Even without the kidnapping, the story of the man I will call Hugo is disturbing.

Hugo, 39, wasn't deported because he was illegal. His parents brought him to the United States when he was 3, and he got his green card about 20 years ago. He had never been to Mexico.

He was deported because he applied for citizenship without checking with a qualified immigration lawyer, who would have told him to wait a decade or two until the pendulum of U.S. immigration policy swings back to a more welcoming position.

A crime of violence?
Hugo was deported because a check of his criminal record turned up two crimes for which he thought he had paid society back — one with about six months in the Harris County Jail, the other with 30 days.

In 1990, Hugo pleaded guilty to a Class A misdemeanor for unauthorized use of a vehicle. According to his brother, he and three friends were caught riding in a car belonging to the father of one of the friends.

The father reported the car as stolen. The court file gives no details of the allegations, but shows that Hugo was sentenced to 30 days, and was allowed to serve the sentence on weekends.

The details, however, don't matter. For purposes of deportation, the Texas joyriding law is classified as a "crime of violence." The judge considering the case is not allowed to "go behind the law" to consider whether the allegation included any hints of violence.

Why the Board of Immigration Appeals considers the unauthorized use of a vehicle a crime of violence isn't clear. But Hugo's lawyer, Georgia attorney Bobby Olds, believes the Board gets some support from a 1999 ruling by a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in United States v. Galvan-Rodriguez.

The court, which is based in New Orleans and covers Texas, ruled that, for sentencing guidelines purposes, a previous conviction of unauthorized use is a "crime of violence."

The reasoning:

While joyriding doesn't always lead to violence, "there is a strong probability that the inexperienced or untrustworthy driver who has no pride of ownership in the vehicle will be involved in or will cause a traffic accident or expose the car to stripping or vandalism," wrote the court.

The court cited no studies justifying the statement, and its ruling has been criticized not only by other courts around the country, but also by another panel here in the 5th Circuit.

Writing in a 2001 case (U.S. v. Joseph Clifton Charles), Judge E. Grady Jolly said, "At the outset, we must say that we have some difficulty visualizing simple car theft — short of carjacking — as a crime of violence. Nevertheless, a panel recently held that the unauthorized use of an automobile was a crime of violence because 'there is a substantial risk that the vehicle ... might become involved in an accident."

Jolly continued with some sarcasm: "Consequently, it does appear, by this reasoning, that in this circuit, most traffic violations have been elevated to crimes of violence."

The panel ruled "with some chagrin" that it was bound by the previous ruling.

Hugo's other crime involves a domestic dispute in 1997 that led his live-in girlfriend to charge him with kidnapping and with rape and other violence against her. Hugo's brother said, after an argument, Hugo just took her to her mother's house, then changed the locks on his house.

After about six months in jail, Hugo pleaded guilty to "attempted kidnapping with intent to release in a safe place," a state jail felony.

He was sentenced to a year in jail, but was given double credit for the time he had already served and released.

Again, the details of what really happened don't matter under immigration law.

For the past five years, Hugo has worked in sales at Houston company that makes gaskets and seals. The owner of the company, which has about 30 employees, calls him a "very, very good person" and "a great employee, very reliable, honest and hard-working."

His wife, a U.S. citizen, doesn't know how she will support her three children — the youngest is 1 — on her secretarial salary.

The law punishes not only her husband for offenses that are, as a matter of record, relatively minor. They make her, perhaps literally, a widow and her children fatherless.

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