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American Immigration Council panel challenges administration’s claims regarding deportation practices

Backed up by research findings of the New York Times and the Syracuse University Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, three consecutive speakers at an April 10 public discussion conducted in Washington, DC by the American Immigration Council and its Immigration Policy Center have forcefully disputed a claim by President Obama that the record number of deportations by DHS in recent years has overwhelmingly involved “criminals, gang bangers, people who are hurting the community, not students, not folks who are here just because they’re trying to figure out how to feed their families.”

In fact, said the three speakers, the only crimes committed or even alleged against more than two-thirds of the individuals who were deported in recent years involved people without proper entry documents into the country or those with minor traffic infractions on their records, with many having no criminal record. According to Walter Ewing, PHD and Senior Researcher at the Immigration Policy Center, the largest increase in deportations went from 43,000 in the last five years of the Bush administration to 193,000 in the first five years of the Obama Administration, and of those persons, over one-half involved only traffic violations. Yet in the same period, the number of individuals convicted of criminal offenses declined.

The increase in the number of so-called “criminals” being deported, said Ewing, is due to the deportation of people with traffic violations or lack of proper entry papers. He cited statistics that only one in five persons deported has been graded as a Level 1 priority, which is the top priority of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Of the people now being deported, Ewing indicated that many are residents, with long ties to the U.S. that include jobs, family members who are citizens, and home ownership. In conclusion, Ewing expressed his opinion that the administration’s existing priorities and policies regarding deportation are not effective in crime fighting or the use of resources.

The second presentation of the discussion featured Beth Werlin, Esq, deputy director of the Legal Action Center at the American Immigration Council, who indicated her subject matter would be “the laws and processes that have enabled so many people to be deported. One of the main facilitators, according to Werlin, was the “summary removal process,” in which DHS agents became both prosecutor and judge, a provision that has resulted in 250,000 individuals being deported without any opportunity to consult a lawyer, put on a defense, appear before a judge or exercise any other type of challenge, except that they feared persecution in their country of origin. It is simply a matter of two officers signing off on the order.

The summary removal process happens very quickly, Werlin pointed out, sometimes in as little as four hours, and “certainly within one day.” Further, the persons being deported often don’t understand the implications and consequences of the formal orders of deportation, which could include criminal prosecution, felony charges, and being barred from the U.S. for anywhere from five years to life.

Moreover, as a result of a law passed in Congress in 2004, and widened in 2006, the scope of authority of government immigration officials was expanded to include persons within 100 miles of the actual border who had not been in the country for more than 14 days -- and persons apprehended by the roving officials could lead to the removal of people who were legally in the country and residents of the country.

The vast majority of people who were removed, explained Werlin, were removed under two provisions: Expedited Removals and Reinstatements of Removals. In 2013, over 100,000 people were deported under the Expedited Removals law, with no opportunity to challenge the ruling. This provision can apply to two groups, she said -- people arriving in the U.S. (and not only for the first time), and people who were simply returning from a trip outside the U.S.

Reinstatement Removals are a similarly summary process, under which no consideration is given to the individual’s current situation, yet the person is barred from challenging the order of removal. Most are arrested and put into detention, where two officers can sign the formal order and make them immediately deportable. Congress has drastically expanded the categories of crimes that make people deportable, said Werlin, so that they now include offenses committed many years in the past as well as offenses that were not deemed to be offenses at the time when they took place.

Judges have very little discretion in these cases; it is next to impossible for an accused party to find a lawyer (especially while being detained far from home); and children are also required to defend themselves.

In the final presentation, Josiah McC Heyman, PhD, Professor of Anthropology and Endowed Professor of Border Trade Issues at the University of Texas, El Paso, described the “common image” of the Mexican-U.S. Border as being an empty place where strangers who have not been in the U.S. before penetrate from the desert. But in reality, he said, it is an area with eight million people including some of the largest cities in the United States, such as San Diego. And many of the people who are apprehended on suspicion of immigration violations identify themselves as being residents of the U.S. who are returning to their homes.

Echoing the words of Beth Werlin and Walter Ewing, he expressed his disapproval of the Expedited Removal system and its second border and “interior check points,” calling the roving patrols of officers and the discretion of non-judges an unfair tactic to apply to people entering the country for the first time or returning home. There is no due process involved, as people who have experience the system have pointed out. The Los Angeles Times has reported that many removals take place at the border, Heyman pointed out, but this does not mean that the persons have no connection to the U.S., since many are U.S. residents and people returning to their homes in San Diego, El Paso or other cities.

Heyman indicated that in professional research of migrant persons, it has been confirmed that three-quarters of the persons being arrested and deported are returning to their homes, where they have lived a median of seven years, and 56% said they planned to cross the border again. In Heyman’s view, the program which is now called “Operation Streamline” takes people who have been arrested, sets them up to be deported, and also puts them into a federal criminal record system. If they are arrested again, they are classified as felons.

“It’s beyond what ICE was supposed to be doing,” he said. The U.S. is spending a billion dollars a year detaining and incarcerating people who are not guilty of anything. It is overwhelming courtrooms and driving out attorneys. When these people turn up in the interior, they’re treated as criminal aliens.

“They keep getting hauled in over and over again. It costs billions, hurts families, and is a crazy, self-fulfilling prophecy.”


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