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Deportations for Minor Crimes: the Obama Administration’s ‘Shame’

by Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

“A crying shame and a painful truth”

Those words helped to sum up the reaction of immigration advocates, civil libertarians, elected officials, foreign consular representatives and immigrants to a mind-numbing appraisal of the Obama administration’s immigration policy which has resulted in almost two million people being deported in five years to the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Pacific and other regions of the world.

What a detailed analysis of government documents showed was that contrary to Obama Administration assertions that it was kicking out murderers, rapists, gang bangers, armed robbers, drug dealers and other serious criminals, two-thirds of those returned to their birthplaces had done nothing more than commit minor offences – such as traffic violence, jumping turnstiles and other acts that earned them no criminal records at all. Indeed, only 20 per cent or 394,000 immigrants were convicted of serious crimes, including drug-related offences, stated the New York Times, which conducted the study and published its results.

“This study only confirms the experiences of people in communities around the United States, who watched as their neighbors and members of their family were deported for minor infractions, such as violations of traffic rules,” charged U.S. Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, a Brooklyn Democrat. “We could not reasonably describe a person who has incurred a parking ticket as a criminal. Yet, the federal government has applied a policy of deportation that absurdly defines such men and women as criminals.

“The continued deportation of hundreds of thousands of people every year imposes serious harms on the families from which men and women are removed, as well as the community as a whole, without any benefit to our society,” added Clarke, who along with Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat of Brooklyn has repeatedly called on President Obama to suspend deportations until the enactment of comprehensive immigration reform, which would open the door to a pathway to citizenship for almost 12 million people who had overstayed their allotted time in the country. “Who could imagine that the removal of a father or mother from their children – for the ‘crime of violating traffic regulations – would not undermine the faith of these children in the due process of law or the good sense of their representatives in government? I remain committed to the suspension of deportation and to a policy of immigration reform that recognizes the value of families.”

The study, based on government data covering more than 3.2 million deportations over a 10 year period, beginning with President George Bush found:

  • Immigrants with no criminal history and whose most serious offence was listed as a traffic violation accounted for the largest increases in deportation in recent years. High on that list was driving under the influence.
  • During President Obama’s five years in the White House, such traffic violation deportation cases skyrocketed from 43,000 during President Bush’s last five years to more than 188,000.
  • Although President Obama attacked the pace of deportations when he first ran for the White House in 2008, his administration kept the high deportation rates he inherited from his immediate predecessor.
  • More immigrants are being deported to their birthplaces without a hearing than before.
  • The Administration has expanded the use of expedited immigration proceedings which gave undocumented immigrants limited opportunities to turn to an attorney seek asylum or show there were extenuating circumstances to their presence in the country.
  • The Department of Homeland Security went after more people who hadn’t complied with deportation orders than Bush. Most of them didn’t have a criminal record.
  • In 2012, deportations reached 409,224, a historic high.

“What these findings indicate is that the focus of the Administration was never on criminals as the White House had said,” complained Bertha Lewis, head of the Black Institute, a prominent immigration advocate. “They also underscore something we have been saying all along and that is the administration’s policy is wrong, discriminatory and shameful. I am glad that people in New York and elsewhere are finally finding out that we have a major problem on our hands when it comes to deportations. They are also discovering that the removal of people from their country isn’t simply about Mexicans but about immigrants from the Caribbean, Africa and Latin America as well.”

Lewis saw an urgent need to shift the policy from deportation to comprehensive immigration reform that would fix the broken system. The Administration’s policy has been an abject failure. Washington has simply declined to give us accurate numbers on race, ethnicity and gender of persons being put out of the country.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, strongly criticized the White House’s deportation policy, calling for an “end to “mass deportations” of immigrants.

“The Obama administration should be ashamed of itself for deporting masses of people in the way it has been doing,” she told the Carib News. “We need immigration reform that provides a pathway to citizenship and we need a Dream Act in New York State, one that would provide financial assistance to undocumented youth attending colleges and universities.

Marsha Branch, Manhattan resident who has been living in the United States for more 20 years, said the situation had become “perilous” for immigrant families who were in danger of losing a major bread winner at any time, a “father or mother” to the deportation mill

“Deportations were never meant to be used in that way,” said the West Indian. “Yes, people who are dangerous and habitual criminals should be sent back to their homes. But they shouldn’t be removed for traffic violations.”

A Caribbean diplomat who requested anonymity said that the airing of the findings was important because it “took the lid off a cover-up.”obama

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