US: Deportation Splits Families

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US: Deportation Splits Families

Legal Residents Often Deported for Nonviolent Offenses, National Data Show

WASHINGTON - Three quarters of non-citizens deported from the United States over
the last decade after serving criminal sentences were convicted of
nonviolent offenses, and one in five had been in the country legally,
sometimes for decades, Human Rights Watch said in a report released
today.

The 64-page report, "Forced Apart (By the Numbers): Non-Citizens Deported Mostly for Nonviolent Offenses,"
uses data from 1997 to 2007 from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement
(ICE), to evaluate the effects of sweeping deportation laws passed in
1996. It shows that some of the most common crimes for which people
were deported were relatively minor offenses, such as marijuana and
cocaine possession or traffic offenses. Among legal immigrants who were
deported, 77 percent had been convicted for such nonviolent crimes.
Many had lived in the country for years and were forced apart from
close family members.

"In 12 years of enforcing the 1996 deportation laws, no one bothered
to ask whether ICE actually focused on the target group - undocumented
immigrants convicted of serious, violent crimes," said Alison Parker,
deputy director of the US Program of Human Rights Watch and author of
the report. "We now know that a good number of people who are here
legally and who are convicted of nonviolent offenses are regularly
swept into the dragnet."

Human Rights Watch called on President Barack Obama and Congress to
revise immigration laws to reduce the focus on deporting immigrants who
are in the country legally. At a minimum, the report said, immigration
law should be amended to permit legal immigrants facing deportation to
ask a judge to allow them to remain in the United States when their
crimes are relatively minor and their connections (especially family
ties) to the United States are strong.

Immigrants who are deported for criminal activity typically are
picked up for deportation at the completion of their sentences. What
happens next is a summary hearing in which judges' hands are tied by
the terms of the 1996 laws - they often cannot consider family
relationships or positive contributions made by the immigrant. Often,
they are only allowed to determine whether the person was a non-citizen
convicted of a deportable offense.

Using Census data and figures released by the Pew Hispanic Center,
the report estimates that just over 1 million family members have been
separated from their loved ones by these deportations.

"We have to ask why, in a time of fiscal crisis, significant
immigration enforcement funds are being spent on deporting legal
residents who already have been punished for their crimes," Parker
said. "Many of these people have lived in the country legally for
decades, some have served in the military, others own businesses. And
often, they are facing separation from family members, including
children, who are citizens or legal residents."

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Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.

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