By Atty. Johnson Lazaro
The government is continuing the crackdown. We continue to see frequent immigration raids. Almost every day, there are reports of large-scale enforcement actions by the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The main targets are usually the work places. Hundreds of undocumented aliens are being detained and processed for removal. Many families are being torn apart. However not all removals are legal. Government agents do make mistakes. Now is the time to be vigilant and to insure that your rights remain intact.
The budget for Immigration control and enforcement has quadrupled. Between 2003 and 2006, ICE’s budget grew 53% to $3.6 billion. For 2008, President Bush requested about $13 billion for border controls and enforcement of immigration laws. This only mean one thing – the raids will continue.
Illegal immigration must be addressed. The government should enforce the laws. However, when immigration agents round up undocumented workers, the risk of someone being illegally detained remains. During a raid there is panic. Many will not have immediate access to an attorney. Sometimes, even though one has a right to see the immigration judge, the authorities may forget or may be too busy to process the court papers. Thus, one may spend many days, sometimes months, in jail while waiting for legal counsel. The Supreme Court has ruled that mandatory detention of aliens, including permanent residents, while removal proceedings are pending is constitutional.
During the frenzy of mass removals or deportations, legal rights can be ignored. For example, lawful permanent residents are not subject to summary or expedited removal. This means that the government cannot just dump you on plane and ship you out. A long time resident is entitled to his or her day in court. The relief of “cancellation of removal” is available for those who have been staying for at least seven years. But if one fails to prove that he is a permanent resident, he may be removed from the U.S. We’ve talked to lawful immigrants who were almost placed in the same group of undocumented workers about to be placed on plane on the way out. We hear reports from cities like Atlanta Georgia and New Jersey that U.S. citizens with Mexican ancestry were being removed. It appears that these were due to government errors. But these errors are costly.
Once in removal proceedings, many who don’t have attorneys and have limited English language skills are pitted against trained trial attorneys. Sometimes there are pro-bono attorneys to help the immigrants. But for those without government-appointed counsel, it is impossible to exercise legal rights.
It is in our nation’s interest to not only secure our borders, but also to provide for a realistic and practical immigration system that is in tune with our country’s economic needs. We need a comprehensive immigration reform, including improved border security measures and a system to bring undocumented immigrants ‘out of the economic shadows.’ We don’t necessarily need to round up people like cattle and throw them out of the country. It is possible to create regulations to help immigrants instead of penalizing them. Let’s challenge our leaders to seek more civility and more just enforcement of immigration laws.
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