JG - Deportees Pt II - The Immigration Reform Act
Deportees Pt II - The Immigration Reform Act
published: Sunday March 5, 2006
Bernard Headley, Contributor
IN PART I, I related the story of an unlikely deportee, myself, simply to draw attention to the need for care in the prejudicial taxonomies we give people. I'd like to relate here, again for benefit of Montego Bay's Superintendent John Morris and others who see fellow Jamaicans forcibly sent back home as 'no angels', to yet another de facto deportee: a friend of similar roots and background, and who likewise had pursued the testing path of higher education in America.
My friend had made it all the way up, after successful schooling, to being a manager in corporate America when, in January 1997, she was returning 'home' to the states with her two American-born children; this after a joyous and enriching Christmas in Jamaica with family. She dutifully presented for re-entry into the U.S., at the Miami airport, her authorised, in-status green card.
Miami was her first port of entry before she'd board another aircraft for a farther U.S. destination. After running her green card through the customary check, the INS agent greeted my friend with a 'fire fi yuh' stare. The officer commanded her to step aside while he did a more thorough check. He came back with horrifying news: she would not be allowed to return to the U.S. because she was an undesirable alien. She had incurred a criminal record while residing in America. Under terms of aforementioned 1996 Immigration Reform Act, INS had no choice but to put her forthwith on the next plane back to Jamaica, to deport her.
The swarm of agents who had descended on her wanted to know if she had relatives in the Florida area. Perhaps the relatives could come to the airport and retrieve her U.S. citizen children. INS would in the meantime look out for them; but she, their mother, would be detained in an INS jail, a place one U.S. journalist, Mark Dow, has described as an 'American Gulag'.
And what was my friend's crime? Back in the late 1980s, years before enactment of the 1996 immigration reform measures, she had, in an encounter with an insistently physically abusive spouse, finally got the better of him. He had not been so severely damaged in the encounter, though, as to render him incapable of calling the police on her. He did, and when the police arrived, they charged her with assault and battery.
Wanting to avoid the drawn-out ordeal (and embarrassment) of a court trial, she plea-bargained. She would in exchange for a guilty plea be left to get on with her life. All went well and seemingly forgotten for the next several years. She'd come home to Jamaica with her children and presented, on arrival back in the states, her green card and, unmolested, was sent on her way.
THE 1996 REFORMS
Then came 1996, the year Congress passed, and President Bill Clinton signed into law, the most onerous piece of immigration legislation in recent American history, 'The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act'. The act expanded the scope of crimes considered aggravated felonies, which are the grounds for deportation. A shoplifting offence with a one-year sentence, for instance, now gets treated as an aggravated felony, for which there is no possibility of relief.
But, the act further expanded the list of deportable crimes to include not only shoplifting, but other minor crimes such as petty theft, drunk driving, and low-level drug violations, all of which have been reclassified as aggravated felonies, a category that includes murder, rape, terrorism, and kidnapping. Under the act, even unpaid traffic fines are grounds for expulsion.
The statutes apply retroactively to all non-citizens who ever committed a crime, even those that occurred in a distant past. They also apply to crimes for which, like my friend's, a court had not imposed a prison sentence. My friend, like thousands of other immigrants, had pled guilty to a minor offence years before the 1996 act, in exchange for probation. She found out, at the Miami airport, that the rules had switched, causing her to face a new sentence: detention and deportation.
I wonder how much of this kind of thing did Superintendent Morris know before he made his off-hand, injurious 'no angel' comment. No one in Jamaica has any firm empirical knowledge of the extent to which deportees people forcibly returned home for shoplifting, working full-time on student visas, for defending themselves against battering spouses, or selling nickel bags of dope are responsible for serious crime in Jamaica. We don't know, because that kind of information, which can only be ascertained from serious study, has not been accumulated.
The much discussed (and vilified in some quarters) U.S. Embassy-sponsored study which graduate students and I completed and recently published gives, we believe, background explanation for the deportee-from-America phenomenon. It also relates key demographic information on the population of America-sent deportees. Foremost, though, the study comprehensively tells the nature of the offences for which individuals were deported. That finding says, when examined closely: sending back to the shores of Jamaica plane loads of Jamaican-born but American-raised violent criminals, who then become disproportionately responsible for Jamaica's high crime problem, is not one of the 'sins' of the Americans.
As The Gleaner's Mel Cooke has written, in his embracing review of our study, if indeed we are to talk intelligently about deportee contribution to crime, we will simply have to do our own study. There are three rather elementary bits of information we need to know:
What proportion of arrests the police make for serious, violent crimes are of deportees?
What percentages of deportees do, on their return to Jamaica, actually get into trouble with Jamaican law enforcement? and;
What has been the nature of the readjustment and reintegrative processes of deportees into the Jamaican society?
My research team and I have laid out to the Ministry of Justice a proposal to do just such a study: a follow-up survey of a statistically representative sample of the more than 12,000 U.S. deportee cases we examined for a six year-period. It'll take money to do that kind of study.
We're waiting to hear from the ministry. We'd like to believe that Government representatives would much rather speak on this critical issue from a position of knowledge and sound information than from fear and ignorance.
Fortunately for my friend, she had the wherewithal to do for herself an O.J. Simpson/Reneto Adams thing: she hired herself the best attorneys money could buy. After three days and nights in an INS detention cell, and a year-long legal battle with the agency, she got from them the 'respect due.' She was able to resume her successful corporate climb.
But she had nearly become someone Superintendent Morris would have regarded as another one of those 'no angel' deportees.
Bernard Headley is Professor of Criminology in the Department of Sociology, Psychology and Social Work, University of the West Indies, Mona; and lead author of the recent book, 'Deported, Volume I'.