In addition to welfare reform regulations that affected immigrants, President Bill Clinton also enacted sweeping immigration reform, signing the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act into law September 30, 1996. The scope of the bill was broad with a goal to strengthen current immigration laws and simplify immigration procedures. The lengthy document had five critical areas:
- Border Control enhancement with more personnel, equipment and technology
- Stronger penalties for convictions of smuggling, human trafficking, and document fraud
- Reformed deportation procedures
- Stricter enforcement of employers
- Benefits restrictions for immigrants
The focus of this blog post will be on the deportation details. It is very common to hear anti-immigrant supporters scream for mass deportation. Usually, they haven’t a clue what that entails. It is a lengthy and costly process, paid for by the taxpayers, and, in the end, even if ruled deportable, almost impossible to actually accomplish.
With an estimated eleven million undocumented people within U.S. borders, I think it is time for the nation to simply wipe the slate clean, grant working or student resident status for the non-criminal immigrants that are here and start over. After you read the basic legal details for the deportation process, you will understand why the gringa feels this way. You may even agree.
So, what about decent people who have managed to enter the country undocumented, are minding their own business, working and contributing to society in a meaningful way? How will the government treat them? According to the 1996 legislation they are to be treated according to their status, illegally present, except for minors, battered women, refugees seeking asylum and certain situations with regard to keeping family unity intact.
For the average undocumented immigrant, after 1996, if discovered, they could look forward to apprehension and detention. It would then be up to the Attorney General to decide whether or not to begin deportation proceedings and keep the person in detention or release them on bond or conditional parole. Such decisions were weighed according to whether or not the immigrant posed a danger to the safety of people and property and could be relied upon to appear for judicial proceedings.
So, an undocumented person gets discovered, is detained, has a hearing and is either released (without work authorization) or continues in detention until receiving a “Notice To Appear”. If they are released they would either have to rely on the charity of others or work off the books. If they remain in detention, it is all on the taxpayer dime.
Their second court appearances is to hear the charges. A period of time is then given for the immigrant to retain counsel. Typically about ninety days. Mind you, then, by the time the actual “Removal Proceeding” is conducted by the court, anywhere from three months to six months has transpired.
At the third appearance, the actual trial of the “Removal Proceeding”, the immigrant’s counsel could also ask for a postponement. Such a strategy occurs quite often in many types of court cases. Six months could drag on into seven or eight months. When the postponed trial date rolls around, if the immigrant fails to appear, which is also not uncommon, counsel can then request a 180 day delay if the reason for the failure to appear is legitimate, such as illness. Now, the deportation process is stretching into about a one year scenario.
After a year of legal wrangling and delays, the “Removal Proceeding” actually takes place. The greater burden of proof is on the nation to provide clear and convincing evidence that the immigrant is deportable. The legislation clearly states that deportation is only valid if reasonable, substantial, and probative evidence is produced. Suppose the judge decides the immigrant is deportable. What then? Well, the immigrant has the right to appeal the case within thirty days. Now we’re up to a year and a month for the deportation process.
What happens with an appeal? The process then starts all over again. So, two years later, from the time the immigrant was first discovered, the final ruling is still for deportation. Now what?
If it is finally concluded that the immigrant is indeed deportable, the Attorney General may still grant the immigrant the right of voluntary departure, at their own expense, within sixty days if the immigrant meets certain criteria. Sounds crazy, right? How many of these “voluntary departure” cases actually departed? Mm hmm. Can you say, “Loophole! Duck and take cover! Lay low and hunker down!”.
If the Attorney General decides the nation will handle the departure, there is a ninety day window in which to accomplish removing the immigrant from the country. Now the deportation process has developed into a two year and three month time period for accomplishment. Will deportation be accomplished?
In a case where the nation handles the actual removal of the immigrant, the immigrant is detained. Again, detention is paid for by the taxpayer. The immigrant will remain in detention until he makes arrangements for departure. There is no law that requires the immigrant actually do this. Even if the country makes the arrangements, the immigrant has to declare where he wants to go. No one can force the immigrant to do this either.
The dear reader asks, “Why doesn’t the nation just return the immigrant to his country of origin?” Well, because that is a sticky process as well. Read on and you’ll find out why. For travel scheduling reasons or because of lack of cooperation from the immigrant, another ninety day time extension can be made. Deportation process now clocking in at two and a half years (and all that time either working off the books, living off the charity of others, or in detention getting room and board on the taxpayer dime).
So, the ninety day extension passes and the immigrant still refuses to leave. Guess what? We can’t force him to. So, the Attorney General now has the “option” to declare a suspension of deportation. This is determined by the immigrant’s length of continuous physical presence in the country, good moral character, and to what degree of hardship deportation would cause. Basically, the Attorney General thinks to himself, “This person has been in the country X number of years, has been a pretty good guy and done well for himself here and if we send him back where he came from his life will return to the living hell he was trying to escape in the first place. Okay. Suspension of deportation granted.” And now the immigrant will be subject to periodic meetings with immigration officers, medical and psychiatric exams at the country’s expense, have no authorization to legally work and live by certain restrictions as outlined by the Attorney General.
Is the dear reader now getting a clearer picture of this mess now? Is the dear reader now no longer surprised and totally understands why so many undocumented people are here and why they will probably continue to stay here? So, if an undocumented person is a law abiding, decent person other than their unlawful entry into the nation, even if ordered by the court to be deported, the country can still not forcibly remove them. They can remain in this country without authorization to work, therefore forced to work off the books and unable to contribute to the very nation that is tolerating their presence. Sounds absolutely crazy to the gringa to go to all this trouble only to end up right back where we started!
Why is forcible removal not possible? Number one, you have a person with no legal identity. You first have to prove who they are in order to know where they come from so you can send them back! Since they have the right to remain silent, they cannot even be forced to tell law enforcement who they are. So, a true individual identity linked to a birth country of origin is what the Attorney General’s office requires before it can make arrangements for deportation. Then some other country must be willing to accept them. They once again have to cross a border into another nation. Who is going to accept them? What if their country of origin is not a neighboring country? What if their country of origin requires travel through multiple other countries? These other countries also have to allow them entry.
If, then, an undocumented individual has been delivered a deport ruling and refuses to reveal his or her true identity, what next? Then the taxpayers have to pay for a full scale investigation to figure out who they are and where they came from if that immigrant decides to exercise this right and not tell immigration officials a damn thing. How do investigators do that?Umm, talk to friends, family and co-workers? Say they do. Say they find out he calls himself Ricardo Montalban from Nicaragua. How does the investigator prove it? Does he call someone in Nicaragua and say, “Hey, we’ve got this guy says he’s Ricardo Montalban from your country. Anybody born about thirty years ago by that name in your neck of the woods?” Honestly, you think it’s that easy? Say the investigators get lucky and they get something like a fingerprint ID to prove Ricardo really is from Nicaragua. Say the judge says, “Deport ol’ Ricardo.” Then, the Attorney General calls up Nicaragua and says, “We’d like to send him back.” Nicaragua can say, “Nope. We don’t want him. We were glad to see the back of ‘im. We won’t let him enter the country. He’s your problem now. You keep him.” But, then again, maybe Nicaragua says, “Sure, we’ll take him back.” Then the Attorney General has to call Mexico and say, “Hey, we’re deporting this guy to Nicaragua but there is a six hour layover in Mexico City. Is that okay with you guys?” What if Mexico says, “Hell no! Ol’ Ricardo caused nothing but trouble last time he passed through here. He’s banned. We won’t let him enter.” Then the U.S. is still stuck with Ricardo. Can you imagine the process of passing through multiple countries and border entries if we deported someone to China or Russia? Now you see just how impossible deportation can really be.
Complicated re-entry and multiple border crossings aside, America also has laws that prevent removal of an immigrant into a country of origin that is at war or where the immigrant’s life or freedom may be threatened. In that case as well as scenarios like the one depicted in the previous paragraph, the only alternative is for the Attorney General’s office to grant an immigrant a “stay”. The immigrant can be released from detention on bond and certain conditions outlined by the Attorney General’s office BUT, yes, the big but, still not authorized to work! IT’S INSANE! I suppose they expect these people to work the rest of their lives off the books and be ghosts in society.
And that, in a nutshell, is the crazy process of deportation. You see, even if they have an illegal status, they still enjoy equal protection under American law. Once they are here the burden is on the United States to prove they don’t belong, prove who they are, and prove where they came from. And, no matter who they turn out to be, the judiciary’s role is to safeguard the rights of ALL individuals. The burden of proof is on the nation to prove a case against the undocumented immigrant.
As a result of this legislation, we can all thank President Clinton for the fact that ever since its passage immigration detention beds have been filled to capacity at taxpayers expense, ruined lives and no real gain in trimming down the numbers of undocumented people within U.S. borders. That is why mandatory detention and deportation needs to stop because it doesn’t actually end with a deportation, only a deportation order that is unenforceable. Every penny of taxpayer money to get from point A to point B only to be told you must return to point A and stay there is wasted. The future of the immigrant is wasted as well. In 2013 there were over 300,000 cases lined up, waiting their turn, for removal proceedings. How much do you think just one of those cases costs the taxpayers? Let’s just guess at $10,000 per case (although the cost is probably much higher). Multiply that times 300,000. Now take all that $3 billion and flush it down the toilet. See what the gringa means?
So, two years and six months of time and expense in detention and the court system, all paid for by the taxpayers, and what was accomplished. Nothing, other than keeping a person within the nation’s borders who is forced to work off the books and therefore unable to contribute their fair share of taxes and Social Security into the system. Now do you see what the gringa means when she said legalize the workers and students, wipe the slate clean and start over?
Once they are legalized, they have an identification that can legally be tracked down to their country of origin. Just like a resident alien, if they commit a felony in five years’ time, they forfeit their chance at citizenship and are deportable because now the country knows who they are, where their country of origin is and the evidence of a deportable crime. During their five year probation, they have been legally working and contributing their fair share of taxes and Social Security. If they keep their nose clean during their five year probation, letting them stay in the country was the right thing to do. So, again, the gringa says, “Just legalize ‘em. It’s the only thing, at this time, that actually makes sense.”
But, if it makes sense, why doesn’t the U.S. government do it? Because the nation has a history of importing cheap labor for big business to exploit; a labor class that has no legal status to make demands for civil rights and protection. Until big business stops running our country’s government through the politicians they own, the nation will never get meaningful immigration reform because it is not in the interest of big business.
Photo credit: www.iyjl.org