Wednesday, June 15, 2011

New Rochelle woman, in U.S. 54 years, fights deportation over old drug case (The Journal News)

New Rochelle woman, in U.S. 54 years, fights deportation over old drug case
11:31 PM, Jun. 14, 2011
Written by Leah Rae

NEW ROCHELLE — Fifty-five-year-old Maria Renda has lived here since her family brought her from Italy as a baby.

She has no more ties to her native country. But because of a decade-old misdemeanor conviction for drug possession, she's facing deportation as a "criminal alien" and being held without bail in New Jersey. She somehow came onto the radar of immigration authorities and was taken from her New Rochelle apartment May 15.

Family members are worried about her health and mental state, saying Renda needs medication for lupus, bipolar disorder and depression.

Her brothers thought they could bail her out of Hudson County jail in Kearny, N.J., which holds immigration detainees under a contract with the federal government. But drug offenders in the immigration system are subject to mandatory detention.

Paul Renda, one of her brothers, calls the system a disgrace.

"We're bewildered," he said. "To me, it's the dark side of America. It's the ugly side that most people don't see."

Maria Renda, known to her friends and family as Roseanne, applied for U.S. citizenship in the past but did not succeed for reasons that are unclear, said her attorney, Saul Brown. She has held a green card, or permanent U.S. residency, since before she was 1.

Brown said the arrest reflects the Obama administration's effort to target immigrants with criminal records. Public attention has focused lately on the Secure Communities program, which uses fingerprint checks to detect illegal immigrants who come into contact with local police. Gov. Andrew Cuomo suspended that program in New York this month, saying it failed to focus on serious felons.

But green-card holders, even those with a half-century of residency, also are "deportable" for virtually any drug conviction. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement cited Renda's 2001 narcotics conviction in arresting her, Brown said. Her record also includes a misdemeanor drug conviction from 1985 and other misdemeanors for shoplifting and petty larceny.

"Everybody makes mistakes, but I thought in America, after you make mistakes, you could vindicate yourself," said Paul Renda, a New Rochelle resident. "People have the right to rehabilitate themselves. You can't be held hostage for your past."

An ICE spokesman said he could not comment on Maria Renda's case specifically, other than to confirm that she was in custody.

Brown is seeking a humanitarian waiver from ICE to make his client eligible for bail. He said he is confident she can avoid deportation by documenting her years here and efforts to rehabilitate herself through therapy. Her next immigration court appearance is Tuesday in Manhattan.

"They're in shock that this could happen," Brown said of Renda's family members, "but this happens. It's starting to happen a lot more now that the Obama administration is making more of an effort to deport criminal aliens."

Paul Renda said his sister, like their five other surviving siblings, has no connection to Italy apart from a cultural one.

"She depends on us, and we take care of each other," he said. "We're Italian."

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