Deportation Splits 1.6 Million From Relatives
Iowa Congressman Steve King likens illegal immigration to invasion and domestic violence, and Know-Nothing presidential candidate Tom Tancredo is calling for the defeat of multi-culturalism. The immigration issue is blamed in part for John McCain's precipitous decline. Even Tommy Thompson, who hasn't made immigration a centerpiece of his campaign, is leading with the issue in radio ads that say "First, no amnesty."
While this rhetoric is raging among Republicans, Human Rights Watch has issued a report looking at the human cost of getting tough.
The report says that since immigration law was toughened in 1996 to require mandatory deportation of legal immigrants convicted of a crime, even a minor one, 672,593 immigrants have been deported. Human Rights Watch estimates that these deportations mean 1.6 million children and adults, including U.S. citizens and long-term lawful permanent residents, have been forcibly separated from their non-citizen family members. Individual cases include a father of three U.S. citizen children convicted of breaking into a car and stealing a $10 bottle of eye drops from a drug store.
The 1996 law eliminated the discretion immigration judges once held in assessing penalties. Rep. Jose Serrano, D-New York, has introduced a bill (HR 1176) which would allow immigration judges to consider the interests of U.S. citizen children during deportation hearings. Human Rights Watch recommends stronger legislation that also considers legal presence and length of time in the U.S., evidence of rehabilitation, ties to the community, military service, and lack of connection to the country of origin. They also favor limiting deportation to those convicted of violent crimes. The report says that from 1997 to 2005, only 21% of deportees had been convicted of violent offenses.