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Part 1: Legal residents getting deported for minor offenses

For South Carolina immigrants and others across the country, a green card is not necessarily protection against deportation. Even a non-violent felony conviction can get a permanent legal resident deported, then banned from returning to the U.S. for 20 years. What began as a legislative response to serious criminal activity by some immigrants has turned into a potential human rights nightmare for all legal immigrants. Immigration attorneys throughout the country have been actively representing legal immigrants who are caught up in such a nightmare.

Not much over a year ago, a long-time resident of the United States took a Fourth of July cruise with his extended family. Upon disembarking, he was taken into custody. Unable to notify his pregnant wife, he was escorted to a nondescript building, where he was fingerprinted, and his passport and green card were confiscated.

It started a decade before, when he was pulled over for a speeding ticket. Since the man had been driving with a suspended license, he panicked and signed the ticket with another name, that of his cousin, who happened to be in the car with him. Thinking better of it, he immediately confessed to the officer. Charged with forging public records, he was given two suspended sentences totaling three years, but never served time. He had no further criminal convictions thereafter.

But his detention came as the result of several laws enacted in the 1980s and '90s specifically targeting immigrants and those seeking asylum, initially those convicted of serious crimes such as murder and drug trafficking, and categorized as "aggravated felonies" under the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act. In 1996, Congress enacted The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act under pressure after the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. The category of aggravated felonies was expanded to include crimes such as perjury.

Immigration offenses became the most common of all federally prosecuted crimes in the two decades between 1990 and 2010, leading to the deportation of around a million immigrants, with an estimated 200,000 of them longtime legal residents convicted of minor, non-violent offenses.

In Part Two of this series, we'll look at some of the abuses taking place under these laws, such as detention quotas, as well as the loss of due process, a protection afforded to all people within U.S. borders, whether citizen, legal resident or undocumented immigrant.

Source: theatlantic.com, "Why are immigrants being deported for minor crimes?" Steve Patrick Ercolani, Nov. 20, 2013

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