Criminal Convictions Have Devastating Consequences for Immigrants
Ohio High School Standout Latest Victim of Strict US Immigration Laws
Bernard Pastor, an 18-year-old student from Springdale, Ohio is making national news - and not because he was set to graduate in the top five of his high-school class. Instead of enjoying his senior year and making plans for college like the rest of his classmates, Pastor is being held at a detention center in Ohio awaiting deportation back to Guatemala.
Pastor was taken into police custody after being unable to produce a driver's license at the scene of a minor traffic accident. Driving without a valid license is a misdemeanor offense in Ohio punishable by up to 180 days in jail. While federal law prohibits the police from asking about a person's immigration status, once a person has been arrested, it is common procedure to verify whether the individual is a legal US resident. When the police ran the check on Pastor, they discovered that he was an undocumented alien.
Pastor has become a focal point in the fight to reform what many believe to be patently unfair US immigration laws. Pastor traveled to the US with his family when he was three-years-old. His father, an Episcopal minister, was seeking asylum from military and religious persecution in Guatemala. Pastor's uncle and his family had received asylum based on the same claim, but Pastor, his parents and his older brother and sister's petition for asylum was denied in 2003. His family then made the decision to remain in the US illegally rather than return home.
Pastor's father fears for his son's life if he is returned to Guatemala. Pastor does not speak Spanish and, except for a grandmother he has not seen in 15 years, does not know any of his family living in his native country. A federal immigration judge has issued a final order for the 18-year-old's deportation, which Pastor has challenged.
Other Crimes Leading to Deportation
Many may be surprised to learn that something as minor as being caught driving without a valid driver's license can be sufficient grounds for deportation. But under US immigration laws, even misdemeanors can provide sufficient cause to remove undocumented immigrants and those with permanent residence status from the US.
According to a 2009 report by Human Rights Watch, nearly 75 percent of those deported between 1997 and 2007 were serving prison sentences for non-violent offenses prior to their deportation and one-fifth of those deported held legal permanent resident status. The most common non-violent criminal offenses leading to deportation included DUI, entering the US illegally and other violations of US immigration laws.
The report found that only 28 percent of the 897,000 people deported during the ten-year time span had committed violent offenses, such as robbery and kidnapping.
Under federal immigration law, immigration judges are required to order the deportation of any legal or illegal immigrant who is convicted of an offense that carries at least a one-year mandatory prison sentence. The law does not give judges discretion to consider other factors about the immigrant's circumstances prior to ordering deportation, such as family connections.
Examples of some of the crimes that trigger mandatory deportation include:
- Drug crimes
- Crimes of moral turpitude, including sex offenses, adultery, embezzlement, shoplifting, welfare fraud, receipt of stolen property
- Aggravated felonies
- Firearms offenses
- Domestic violence crimes, including violating an order of protection
- Drunk driving offenses
- Violation of US immigration laws, including falsifying immigration documents, helping others enter the country illegally, knowingly providing false information to immigration officials
Aggravated felony convictions are the most common reason for mandatory deportation. There are more than 50 types of crimes that are considered aggravated felonies, including crimes of violence requiring the use of force against a person or property, theft crimes, perjury, tax evasion, prostitution and child pornography. In some cases, offenses that are misdemeanors under state law are considered aggravated felonies and will trigger mandatory deportation.
In general, once a person holding legal permanent resident status is deported from the US, they are not allowed to return for 10 years. However, in some cases, the immigration judge may order their removal to be permanent and bar him or her from ever returning to the country.
Contact an Experienced Immigration Attorney
Whether you are a documented or undocumented immigrant, being charged with a crime can threaten your ability to remain in the US. An attorney experienced in immigration law and criminal defense can help you challenge the criminal charges against you and defend you in any subsequent deportation actions. For more information, contact an experienced immigration attorney today.