About Those Criminals We’re Deporting

Edward Delman shares the story of how his brother Saul was nearly deported for “a misdemeanor—check fraud—that Saul had committed at the age of 19”:

You could be a wife and mother to U.S. citizen children, contributing to your community and working to support your family, and they could deport you because of a shoplifting conviction you committed 15 years ago, despite years of rehabilitation in the meantime,” says Heidi Altman, an attorney and legal director of the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition. And that’s exactly what seems to be happening to many immigrants.

A Human Rights Watch report shows that between 1997 and 2007, 77.1 percent of legal immigrants who were deported were deported for non-violent offenses, such as immigration crimes, DUIs, and illegal entry. Moreover, according to a report from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, the number of deportees who have been convicted “of any criminal offense apart from an immigration or traffic violation has actually declined.” Despite the administration’s claim that it is targeting threats to the public, the numbers tell a different story.

The good news is that if the government files deportation proceedings against you, you have the ability to appeal. The bad news is that if you can’t afford representation or aren’t lucky enough to get your case taken on pro bono, you’re on your own in court. Unlike in criminal court, where anyone—citizen and non-citizen alike—is entitled to counsel, there is no such right in immigration law. As a result, 60 percent of detained immigrants and 27 percent of non-detained immigrants lack any legal representation when facing removal. The importance of having representation cannot be overstated: Immigrants with lawyers are six times more likely to successfully appeal deportation, according to CAIR.