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Part 2: Legal residents getting deported for minor offenses

In Part One of this series, we discussed a fairly recent category of criminal offense, "aggravated felonies," created by Congress nearly 20 years ago to deal with dangerous criminal activities by immigrants. The laws were later expanded (and enforced by Immigration and Customs Enforcement ) to include minor, non-violent crimes. Our South Carolina readers, here legally or not, need to be aware of these laws and also of the loss of civil rights that attend them.

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, enacted under the Clinton administration, would, in Clinton's words, "eliminate most remedial relief for long-term legal residents" and made serious changes to immigration law that had nothing to do with fighting terrorism. The "remedial relief" referred to is due process of law.

There are no official government statistics that tell how many immigrants are deported for aggravated felonies. However, a research unit at University of Syracuse, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, has been collecting data on immigration enforcement in the United States. Their numbers show that aggravated felony convictions are used by the ICE as a chief tool of deportation. ICE confirmed this finding in an agency memorandum by its former director, in which the "removal of aliens who pose a danger to national security or a risk to public safety" is the agency's top priority. This policy has led to a kind of fusion of federal immigration law and local law enforcement, transforming deportationfrom an administrative process by immigration authorities into a punishment for immigrants, without the constitutional protection of due process of law.

The problem is exacerbated by a quota system, creating a pressure on local immigration offices to fill up beds in detention centers. The rate of detention may increase if the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act passes in a floor vote before the end of the year. Humanitarian efforts to help undocumented immigrants would also be deterred under this law. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers continue the process of piecemeal immigration legislation, and the many thousands of immigrants in detention remain in limbo.

If you or a loved one is facing deportation, an experienced immigration attorney can provide advice and options that you may not be aware of. The immigration system is complex and having a legal advisor can help you navigate this complicated arena of the law.

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

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