US: Mandatory Deportation Laws Harm American Families

HRW Press Release

Published on HRW Human Rights Watch, July 17, 2007:

The mandatory deportation of legal immigrants convicted of a crime, even a minor one, has separated an estimated 1.6 million children and adults, including US citizens and lawful permanent residents, from their non-citizen family members, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

US immigration officials have deported 672,593 immigrants because of criminal convictions since 1997, after Congress passed legislation making deportation a mandatory penalty for a long list of crimes, including minor, non-violent offenses committed years before the laws went into effect. Many of those deported arrived in the US as children and were lawful permanent residents who had lived legally in the country for decades.

“The laws are not only cruel in their rigidity, they are senseless”, said Alison Parker, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch’s US Program and author of the report. “How do you explain to a child that her father has been sent thousands of miles away and can never come home simply because he forged a check”?

Prior to 1997, immigrants who committed a crime were permitted to go before an immigration judge, who could exercise his or her discretion in imposing penalties. However, the legislation Congress passed in 1996 precluded immigration judges from considering whether deportation would be excessively harsh in light of the immigrants’ family relationships, community ties, US military service records, or the possibility of persecution if returned to their country of origin. The deportation takes place after the non-citizen has completed the terms of the sentence imposed for the crime.

The 88-page report, ‘Forced Apart: Families Separated and Immigrants Harmed by US Deportation Policy’, is the first comprehensive assessment of the deportation of non-citizens with criminal convictions and the impact on families and communities in the US … (full text).

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