By Erika Robles
(previously published in July 2004)
According to official figures, as of late Jan. 2004, more than 63,000
immigrants have been detained over the past year. However, leading
immigration attorney, Richard Iandoli, estimates it at about 100,000. Of
those numbers, the Department of Homeland Security says it has already
deported as many as 70 percent, most of them legal residents.
On Sept. 30, 1996,
a new immigration act was introduced called the "Immigrant Responsibility
Act of 1996." This act allows for the deportation or removal of any alien
--illegal, legal and non-immigrant -- convicted of a misdemeanor or felony
that carries a punishment of at least one year in jail, regardless of
whether they served the sentence or it was reduced to simple probation.
The most disturbing parts of this act are that the law is retroactive and
that the definition of "felony" has been expanded.
The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services states that the "primary
purpose of the 1996 amendment was to expand laws regarding the
removal/deportation of criminal aliens," no matter when the crime was
committed, expanding a whole class of people who are now deportable. People
who committed a crime in the 1970s are already facing deportation without
hope of appeal. "They are putting a more serious penalty on something that a
person has already done," said defense Attorney Ricardo M. Barros.
If a legal immigrant had done a crime years and years ago, paid his penalty
in jail or probation, they now have to worry about being deported even if it
was 20 years ago. "If you commit one of these crimes and you are married to
a United States citizen, there used to be a waiver appeal because of the
marriage. That has been struck; you don't have that process anymore. It does
not matter if you have four children who are American citizens or not...The
waiver, the relief that legal immigrants got, has been eliminated."
Moreover, prior to the introduction of this law, a legal immigrant could
face deportation if he had been convicted of an aggravated felony which
meant murder, any illicit trafficking, including firearms, money laundering,
or any crime or violence for which a prison term of five years or more was
imposed. The new Immigration Act has changed all that. The meaning of
"aggravated felony" for immigration purposes has changed and it now includes
less serious crimes such as: shoplifting, driving under the influence,
fraud, burglary, minor technical violations of immigration law -- such as
failure to update addresses and other required information within mandated
deadlines -- and many other misdemeanors where a one-year sentence or
imprisonment was ordered by the court regardless of any suspension or
withholding of execution.
The definition of aggravated felony was also made retroactive, so that
someone with a conviction twenty years ago that was not grounds for
deportation when the crime was committed is now deportable without any
possible relief, even though they may have lived an exemplary life ever
Although the law was introduced under former President Bill Clinton's
administration, the law was unevenly enforced until after the 9/11
catastrophe. Since then all those arrested are held without bond until a
deportation hearing or until they waive their rights to such a hearing. If
the crime was committed after the act was enacted, the right of a hearing is
Many of the legal residents apprehended had been living quiet, law-abiding
lives for many years. However, they now face removal charges for a crime
they committed sometimes decades ago and for which a penalty has already
been paid. The old saying: "they've paid their debt to society," doesn't
apply to them, simply because they aren't United States citizens.
Overall, the act is a massive and complicated piece of legislation which
curtails and in most cases ends the United States life for an alien, and in
numerous cases it causes extreme hardship and undue separation of families.
Not too many articles have been written about this critical reality that
many immigrants --including Hispanics -- are now facing. Since mid-2002, a
massive deportation of legal resident aliens has occurred. Are we going to
let this continue? Write to your congressmen and ask for their support
before more families get destroyed.
Erika Robles, a contributing columnist to HispanicVista.com (www.hispanicvista.com),
is a writer and translator now living in Eugene,
Oregon. She was educated in Mexico
City; London, England; and Melbourne, Australia. Contact at:
firstname.lastname@example.org. Web page: