Bills must stop deportations for minor offenses

By Rashida Tlaib
-Guest Columnist- | Last updated: Oct 4, 2006 - 2:20:00 PM

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Lost in the often-vitriolic national quarrel over immigration reform is any examination of proposed measures that would result in excessive punishment, such as detention and deportation, for the most minor offenses. Concern for “national security” has introduced unprecedented insecurity to living in the United States as a legal permanent resident. When a legal immigrant can be deported for the most minor offenses, like omitting information on a form that at the time seemed irrelevant, or forgetting to change one’s address, can all be used as a basis to be uprooted from your home and taken away from your family and children.

It’s easy to forget that detention and deportation have real and long-lasting effects on families. We are not able to see such negative effects right away, or immigrants fear speaking out. I’ve heard the helplessness and desperate voices of fathers and mothers who try to understand why their loved ones are being criminalized so harshly. This past spring, one woman pleaded, “My husband is not a murderer; he didn’t hurt anyone, so why are they taking him away from us?” Her name is Manal Kawas, a legal permanent resident living in New York and the mother of three. Her family of five is being torn apart for something you and I may have done with good intention. The family came to the United States from Jordan when the first Iraq War erupted and decided to remain in the U.S. rather than return to a war-stricken region. After years of living and raising a family in New York, Manal’s husband was picked up for questioning on an unrelated matter, and was then placed in deportation proceedings for simply putting his name on the title form of a car that didn’t belong to him, but to a friend who needed his help. He did not know the act was illegal or that it would be the reason for the United States to tear him away from his family and the country he had known for almost 15 years. His wife is dumbfounded and devastated as she is left with no source of income or emotional support. She’s living with depression now and continues to plead to the U.S. immigration courts that her husband is a good man, but she’s ignored just like many who are going through the same ordeal.

Many immigration lawyers working on these types of cases have accused the government of intentionally targeting legal permanent residents from the Middle East. After 9/11, fear between Arab and Muslim communities rose and remain widespread, as repressive policies seem to target particular nationalities. Many Latino advocates have also expressed concern that arbitrary punishment for minor offenses would lead to massive deportations, like the incident that took place in a residential street in Southwest Detroit in May 2006, when more than a dozen immigrants were dragged from their homes and deported immediately. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) officials stated that this was part of a national operation to apprehend immigrants that committed violent crimes. However, reports from community members verified that ICE began knocking on neighboring homes one by one and took several people into custody without just cause. These enforcement practices are expanded in the proposals of both the House and the Senate under the infamous Title II section of their immigration bills. These arbitrary provisions have been inconspicuously inserted with no serious discussion of the implications and their legality under the U.S. Constitution.

There is no mention of these dangerous provisions in the debate. Over and over again, we hear about border security, legalization and national security, but there is no reference to maintaining our tradition and American values of keeping families together, providing a safe haven for the needy and advancing humanity.Where is the spirit of justice, equality and fairness in the debate on immigration? By supporting a security-only approach, we permit the targeting of whole races and nationalities. We allow the arbitrary deportation of immigrants with no concrete or just reason. We weaken the core values that make us a strong and proud country. It is so clear that the conservatives in Congress will only settle for a bill that allows the unequal treatment of immigrants, allow them to be shoved around the system with no way to plead their case for relief. Many civil and human rights advocates are calling this cruel and unusual punishment. As we enter another stage in the immigration debate, it is important that Congress leaders address the lack of due process safeguards and the lack of protections for families and their rights. If we continue to ignore the perils posed by these hidden provisions in the House and Senate immigration bills, we are simply mocking the principles that our country was founded on.

(Rashida Tlaib, advocacy coordinator of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) in Detroit.)