The Opinion Pages|Letters
Deportations for Minor Offenses
APRIL 13, 2014
Credit Shannon Freshwater
To the Editor:
Re “More Deportations Follow Minor Crimes, Data Shows” (front page, April 7):
It’s a mistake to focus the debate about immigration enforcement on the question of which immigrants are sufficiently “criminal” to deserve deportation. When the Obama administration talks about deporting people with convictions, they are talking about people who have already served their sentences for those convictions.
If you are a citizen who commits an offense, you pay the penalty issued by the criminal legal system, and then you are free to try to rebuild your life. If you are a noncitizen who commits that same offense and pays that same penalty, you can be subjected to the double punishment of permanent exile from your home and family.
This two-tiered system of justice is morally abhorrent regardless of how serious the underlying offense may have been. It’s an unfairness compounded by the well-documented unfairness of the criminal legal system itself, which disproportionately targets poor people and minorities.
Let’s not rely on our corrupt criminal justice system to justify the operations of our corrupt immigration system.
Brooklyn, April 7, 2014
The writer is staff attorney for immigrant rights and racial justice at the Center for Popular Democracy.
To the Editor:
Your article about immigration enforcement declares that “since President Obama took office, two-thirds of the nearly two million deportation cases involve people who had committed minor infractions, including traffic violations, or had no criminal record at all.”
But according to data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, more than half of those removals (including two-thirds last year) were apprehended at the border trying to enter the United States illegally, and were not interior deportations.
Interior removals — true deportations — have actually declined 40 percent since 2009, according to ICE data. You therefore create the appearance of a surge in immigration enforcement against “minor” offenders. In reality, 70 percent of the criminal aliens removed from the interior of the country last year had felony convictions.
I also take issue with your definition of “minor infractions.” ICE does not allow agents to begin deportation proceedings when an alien’s only other violation is a civil traffic offense; the traffic infractions characterized as “minor” involve crimes like D.U.I. or vehicular manslaughter — hardly something to be shrugged off.
JEFF SESSIONSWashington, April 8, 2014
The writer, a Republican, is a United States senator from Alabama.
To the Editor:
The analysis of deportation practices under the Obama administration revealing that most deportees had committed only minor infractions or had no criminal record whatsoever raises the possibility that people in need of asylum are being returned to countries where they face the threat of torture.
Asylum protections have been seriously eroded, particularly with the imposition of tough visa restrictions and closed borders. Thus, people fleeing a well-founded fear of persecution or torture are often resorting to irregular cross-border travel in search of refuge. Sweeping deportation schemes that lack rigorous due-process protections may result in the return of people who face persecution and torture in their home countries.
As a society, we should reject placing anyone at risk of the physical and psychological harms of torture. It is time that Americans call on the government to uphold the prohibition against torture at home and abroad, including for those who are most marginalized. Undocumented immigrants facing torture are among those.
Director of Programs
Physicians for Human Rights New York, April 7, 2014
To the Editor:
Your article correctly pointed out an important inconsistency: an executive (President Obama) who has urged prioritization of deportations using prosecutorial discretion, began a deferred-action program for child arrivals and called for a more “humane” deportation system, while on the other hand deporting people in record numbers, the vast majority of whom are not criminals.
At bottom, there is a deep disconnect between reality and the rhetoric.
Unfortunately, an undifferentiated strategy does not intelligently use our limited enforcement resources to target dangerous criminals. Is this country benefited by a “deport them all” approach? At one time, it might have been politically expedient, but the time has come for change. We need to make a real effort to sift out vulnerable populations with little or no criminal background and provide them relief.
“Humane” deportations? Let’s be honest: The only way to effectuate a “humane” deportation policy is not to deport those who are deserving of relief.
GEOFFREY A. HOFFMAN
Houston, April 7, 2014
The writer is a clinical associate professor of law and director of the University of Houston Immigration Clinic.
A version of this letter appears in print on April 14, 2014, on page A22 of the New York edition with the headline: Deportations for Minor Offenses