By Jorge Reyes
I recently received a petition to sign from a friend of mine, Andy Hernandez. Since there are so many petition drives for just about every type of issue, at first I thought this one was for the Green Movement, Save the Whales, or something similar. But then when I began reading the petition drive I realized that it had been made on behalf of Andy by his wife and children.
Here's the story.
Andy Hernandez went to live in New York from the Dominican Republic in 1975, age 8, having been granted permanent residency status. His family settled in Washington Heights, where he went to school, got a job, and became thoroughly Americanized.
Washington Heights, as you may know, is one of New York City's "most murderous neighborhoods." Most of the violence could be attributed to the arrival of crack cocaine in the mid-1980s and the activities of the rival drug gangs who plied their trade on neighborhood street corners. In the 1990's, Washington Heights was known to be the largest drug distribution centers in the NE USA. As late as 1998, drug arrests in Washington Heights occurred once every hour-and-a-half, inspiring a book titled Wild Cowboys: Urban Marauders and the Forces of Order, by Robert Jackall. Only in the mid 2000's, after years when gangsters ruled a thriving illegal drug trade, does it seem that some urban renewal has begun for that plighted community.
The harsh realities of Andy's youth, like many kids growing up in similar environments, compelled him to make mistakes. In 1992, he was convicted of criminal possession of stolen property in the 5th degree. Andy never served time for the alleged crime, though he was sentenced to three (3) years' probation. In 1994, he was convicted of conspiracy to possess unauthorized access devices. For this offense he was sentenced to three (3) years' probation and 400 hours of community service. Again, for this crime he was not required to serve any time in jail.
But by the end of 1994 and with most of his legal problems behind him, Andy tried to put his life back together again; he enrolled in college on a full time basis, while he also worked to support himself. In 1999, he got married raising his biological daughter, age 10, and his step daughter, age 5. By 2003, Andy had totally turned his life around and by then had become one of the most admired and respected producers in Telemundo, working for top-rated TV shows such as Caso Cerrado. In 2008 he became a foster parent in order to give unwanted children a better life.
Believing his past was behind him, on July 3, 2007, upon returning from visiting his family in the Dominican Republic, Andy was held in Miami International Airport for 10 nerve-wrecking hours. To the bureaucratic INS officer (a Hispanic), it was sufficient to know that Andy had had prior criminal convictions, regardless and in spite of the fact that he had been living an honorable, honest, and hard-working life for well over 16 years; regardless and in spite of the fact that those problems were a thing of the past; a past Andy recalls as being a nightmare.
Now Andy faces deportation. His fate is to be decided by an immigration judge at his hearing sometime this year, 2010.
WHY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT IS DIVIDING AMERICAN FAMILIES WITH ITS NEW QUOTA SYSTEM
If you think that Andy Hernandez's legal problems is an isolated case of an overzealous agency or that it can't happen to you, think again. You're in for a surprise.
Due to dropping deportations the INS have set out to do something about it, creating a new set quota rules for its agency and agents. This is happening, despite the Obama's administration call to focus deportation for illegal immigrants and for only a narrow group of violent offenders.
This has been outlined in documents recently acquired by a senior U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official to field directors nationwide. In the Feb. 22 memo, James M. Chaparro, head of ICE detention and removal operations, wrote that, despite record deportations of criminals, the overall number of removals was down, and this is where it all starts. While ICE was on pace to achieve "the Agency goal of 150,000 criminal alien removals" for the year ending Sept. 30, total deportations were set to barely top 310,000, "well under the Agency's goal of 400,000," and nearly 20 percent behind last year's total of 387,000, he wrote.
In explicit language, Chaparro set out to explain how to go about achieving the agency's goals: by increasing detention space to hold more illegal immigrants while they await deportation proceedings; by sweeping prisons and jails to find more candidates for deportation and offering early release to those willing to go quickly; and, most controversially, with a "surge" in efforts to catch illegal immigrants whose only violation was lying on immigration or visa applications or reentering the United States after being deported.
"These efforts must be sustained and will be closely monitored," Chaparro told field directors in the e-mail, which was obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting and The Washington Post.
ICE spokesman Brian P. Hale distanced the agency from Chaparro's remarks, saying, "Portions of the memo were inconsistent with ICE, inconsistent with the administration's point of view and inconsistent with the secretary." He added that the agency has moved to "clarify" the situation.
Chaparro issued a new memo Friday stating that his earlier e-mail "signals no shift in the important steps we have taken to date to focus our priorities on the smart and effective enforcement of immigration laws, prioritizing dangerous criminal aliens . . . while also adhering to Congressional mandates to maintain an average daily [detention] population and meet annual performance measures."
In the new memo, Chaparro did not change nor alter the previous strategies he had laid out.
Advocates on the right and left pounced on the memo and other ICE documents, saying they showed that the agency is being neither tough nor consistent in targeting the worst offenders.
"We cannot allow a preoccupation with criminal aliens to obscure other critical ICE missions," Rep. Harold Rogers (Ky.), the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations subcommittee for homeland security, said in a statement released by his office. "At best, it appears as though immigration enforcement is being shelved and the Administration is attempting to enact some sort of selective amnesty under the cover of 'prioritization.' "
Joan Friedland, immigration policy director at the National Immigration Law Center, countered that quotas will encourage agents to target easy cases, not the ones who pose the greatest safety risk.
"For ICE leadership, it's not about keeping the community safe. It's all about chasing this 400,000 number," said Chris Crane, spokesman for the American Federation of Government Employees Council 118, which represents ICE workers.
Since November, ICE field offices in Northern California, Dallas and Chicago have issued new evaluation standards and work plans for enforcement agents who remove illegal immigrants from jails and prisons. In some cases, for example, the field offices are requiring that agents process an average of 40 to 60 cases a month to earn "excellent" ratings.
I don't know about you, but I smell a rank and file hypocrisy in all of this double-talk.
The American Civil Liberties Union, an organization never shy about embracing unpopular causes, said in a statement, "These enforcement priorities are in direct contradiction with those set forth by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano and ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton who have both repeatedly testified, for much of the past year, that ICE's priority is the deportation of dangerous criminal offenders."
"This is unsound government policy and an imprudent use of American taxpayers' money that can very easily lead to civil liberties abuses," said Joanne Lin, ACLU legislative counsel, who attended the DHS meeting.
"Immigration enforcement practices should be tied to the needs and demands of America, not driven by arbitrary numerical goals set by ICE. The preoccupation with reaching the number 400,000 has placed intense pressure on all corners of ICE to step up immigration enforcement operations," she said.
"The ACLU is very concerned that ICE agents, in the name of meeting specific numerical goals, will feel pressured to cut corners and improperly target people who look 'foreign' for stops and interrogations."
All that is fine, but to an immigrant who under force or intimidation signs away a waiver to his/her rights for an immigration hearing or to an established legal resident with a family to support and a successful business and career whose past seems to be having a deletorious karmic effect years later, change in the law can't come soon enough.
BACK TO ANDY HERNANDEZ
But to Andy all this bureaucratic double-talk means little. His main concern is for the family he might have to abandon if an immigration judge decides that it is in the best interest of our society to destroy it by deporting him.
That's not the way it should be. It's one thing for a government entity to uphold the law, another thing to over use it in order for its agents to get "excellent" ratings in their personnel job performance evaluations.
We live in a society where many of us have had past legal issues-- misdemeanors, felonies, what not. But once we comply with the requirements of the sanction of the law, it's time to assist them to move on with their lives, which means not subject them to ongoing, often lifelong, forms of discrimination. If that's your interpretation of what a just society should be doing to its productive members of society, then I beg to differ in the strongest possible way.
Sadly, that is exactly what is happening and, surprisingly, what continues to happen despite the election to the Presidency of a man who comes from one of the most discriminated groups in our society, African-Americans. Ironically, folks, deportations under President Obama are still higher than under the Bush administration.
I hope that when the Obamas come next week to Miami for a Democratic fund-raiser dinner at the palatial residence of Cuban-born singer Gloria Estefan and her husband Emilio, this issue like many others affecting immigrants will be utmost in their minds. That's only a hope, of course, so that at least the Estefans can put to good use their pricey $34,000 a plate invite only fund-raiser-- an event most of us are automatically precluded from attending.
If real reform that respects the full rights of every American (aliens or naturalized) doesn't happen, then the witchhunt against legal immigrant Americans will continue. In effect, this won't be any different than a new form of Jim Crow, something akin to the noxious "separate but equal" laws that for centuries treated some Americans with more rights than others. This time around, though, it's not against a despised African-American minority, but against Hispanics. So, watch out with that misdemeanor you had years ago. You could be next.
If you feel it in your heart that you should sign yet another petition, by all means do so by going to: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/Help-keep-a-loving-man-from-getting-deported.