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3/29: A look at sad reality of what happens when immigration meets criminal justice (2)

A look at sad reality of what happens when immigration meets criminal justice

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

(....Continue from Part One)

Thus, when Perez was released he was allowed to stay, even though he had a final order of deportation.

In the less than three years since he got out, Perez has lead a full and productive life. He’s working full-time at the Urban Justice Center where he helps others get back on their feet after prison. He’s also attending school — on a full-scholarship — at St. Francis College. He’s spoken about criminal justice reform everywhere from Cornell Law School to NYU to Princeton and is even a paid lecturer at his own school. He works with the police athletic league where he uses his experiences to educate at-risk youth.

After years of dull prison colors, he likes bright socks. He’s passionate about social justice and making up for lost time with his 15-year-old daughter. Despite all the years away from technology, he’s social media-savvy, posting constant tidbits from his day.

“Bought 3 Powerball tickets and gave them to 3 homeless people,” he wrote in January. “I challenge you to do the same! #MakeItHappen.”

In spite of all that, the threat of deportation is constantly hanging over his head. He’s been under immigration supervision since his release from prison — and if U.S.-Cuba improve enough, he could be deported immediately.

“I remember my immigration officer asked me if I wanted to have more kids and I answered yes. He said he would not advise starting a family or ‘getting too comfortable’ because as soon as the US and Cuba start getting along I was going back,” Perez said.


Not all immigrants with criminal records go on to do such admirable things upon their release. Last year, Sen. Richard Blumenthal grilled ICE director Sarah Saldańa about the failure to remove Jean Jacques, a Haitian immigrant who served 16 years for attempted murder and later killed a 25-year-old Connecticut woman after his release, according to The Day.

Jacques was from Haiti — a country that, like Cuba, won’t always accept deportees. After his release from prison, he was held in ICE custody but was released once repatriation attempts failed. Eventually, he stabbed 25-year-old old Casey Chadwick and left her body in a closet.

Right now, immigration does surprisingly little to distinguish between people like Jacques and people like Perez — and any changes to the current system would have to come from the top, as immigration policy is a federal matter.

Immigration law is set by Congress, but, Wellek said, “The administration can decide how to enforce those laws. Like any prosecuting agency they have some discretion.” For instance, the President could instruct ICE to stop using home raids or to institute a statute of limitations so that legal residents don’t get deported for decade-old crimes.

“For most criminal offenses, there’s a statute of limitation,” Wellek said. “But for immigration they can come after you whenever so we’ve seen people who served time in the 90s and because immigration was not as all powerful back then they would get out and rebuild their lives and now immigration is doing home raids and going after them.”

Wellek anticipates that change will be difficult. Even though the tides have turned on other drug war-era policies, the immigration aspects of those policies haven’t budged.

“(Politicians) have acknowledged that the crime bill and drug laws went way too far but no one on that level has acknowledged the harshness of those deportation laws,” Wellek said.


After Singh was arrested in 2002, he took a plea and served less than a year behind bars. At the time, he had no idea that guilty plea could lead to his deportation. At one point, he said, immigration came and interviewed him at Rikers Island and said they’d decided he wasn’t worth deporting.

By the time immigration agents scooped him up that fateful day in 2013, he’d been in the country for nearly two decades. He’d graduated from an American high school, paid taxes in America and had long lost connections to his native Guyana.

He’d gotten married, had two children — a son who’s now 5 and daughter who’s 9 — and held down two jobs to make ends meet.

None of that mattered.

Singh was held in ICE custody for 18 months — more than twice as long as he’d spent in jail a decade earlier — before he was finally deported in September 2014.

Afterward, his daughter cried herself to sleep at night. His son forgot who he was.

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