New Immigration Legislation Would Divide and Devastate Families

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In 1996, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) introduced the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), a draconian piece of legislation that stripped immigration judges of the ability to determine whether a person should be allowed to remain, and permitted the indefinite detention of immigrants whose governments refused to issue travel documents.

The Supreme Court struck indefinite detention down as an affront to liberty in Zadvydas v. Davis stating, “Freedom from imprisonment – from government custody, detention, or other forms of physical restraint – lies at the heart of the liberty [the due process] clause protects.”

Even so, emboldened by the far-reaching legislation, the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and its attorneys interpreted the statute as broadly as possible. Instead of accepting the burden of proof, as is standard in all other contexts when there is a deprivation of liberty, jailed immigrants were forced to prove that the INS (and now the DHS) could not deport them.

Not surprisingly, by August 2008, public officials such as James Pendergraph, Former Executive director of the ICE Office of State and Local Coordination, were so drunk on power that he publicly stated in a room full of law enforcement officers, “If you don’t have enough evidence to charge someone criminally but you think he’s illegal, we [the ICE] can make him disappear.” The legacy of IIRIRA remains profound and cruel.

Since then, thousands of people walking toward the American dream have lost their lives to human rights abuses in the desert, leaving behind their devastated families who just want to know what happened. It is impossible to measure the harm that IRRIRA has wrought on the families of U.S. citizens and their communities over the last fifteen years. There is no doubt that IIRIRA was too broad, too harsh, and too arbitrary to be anything but a blunt instrument that destroyed lives without making the United States any safer.

Lashing out at immigrants again, Rep. Smith’s new legislation H.R. 1932 purportedly intends only to jail dangerous criminals for life, but in practice would reach much further. Because it requires a life sentence for an “aggravated felony,” which, under immigration law, does not require violence, aggravation, or a felony conviction, it will capture thousands of people who haven’t committed violent crimes, thousands more who have committed non-violent misdemeanors, and still more who have committed no crime at all, except to seek to support their families by crossing the border.

Learn more about United States immigration and related human rights abuses by reading Amnesty’s report,  Jailed Without Justice.

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14 thoughts on “New Immigration Legislation Would Divide and Devastate Families

  1. hi my name is malia barekzai my husband is in immigration custody from 2/18/2010 judge order to deport him to his countery afghanistan 9/22/2010 but they keep him till 3/29/2011 then they take him to india and bring him back to usa on 4/01/2011 he is in henderson jail now he had 62 hours in the plain he has 4 kids wife my life and my 9 years daughter get runed i want to ask is this be humans rights the only thing is im thinking is because we are muslim they give us hard time my husband had a roomate judge order to he should be deport in iran but they release him not my husband i need help please and now after amost 2 months telling him we are sorry we will send you soon as we can thats not right they re enter him so why they dont give him a chance to leave with his family thank you.

  2. Is it common for illegal immigrants to be denied travel documents from their home countries?

  3. hi my name is malia barekzai my husband is in immigration custody from 2/18/2010 judge order to deport him to his countery afghanistan 9/22/2010 but they keep him till 3/29/2011 then they take him to india and bring him back to usa on 4/01/2011 he is in henderson jail now he had 62 hours in the plain he has 4 kids wife my life and my 9 years daughter get runed i want to ask is this be humans rights the only thing is im thinking is because we are muslim they give us hard time my husband had a roomate judge order to he should be deport in iran but they release him not my husband i need help please and now after amost 2 months telling him we are sorry we will send you soon as we can thats not right they re enter him so why they dont give him a chance to leave with his family thank you.

  4. This lamar smithis a devil.separating families ,been so cruel only will do one thing to america .loose theyv stand with god

  5. This lamar smithis a devil.separating families ,been so cruel only will do one thing to america .loose theyv stand with god

  6. Hi Joe,

    It is common for undocumented immigrants to be denied travel documents from their countries of origin. Sometimes it's because the country has no agreement with the U.S. for repatriation, at other times it's because the country is using issuance of the travel document as leverage in negotiations. It is also sometimes the case that a country no longer has capacity to absorb the hundreds of thousands of people being deported each year, and so it refuses to issue travel documents. In small countries the massive and unexpected deportation of its nationals can have an exceptional effect on the home country which now must feed, clothe, house and assist in securing work and reintegration for hundreds if not thousands of people.

  7. Hi Joe,

    It is common for undocumented immigrants to be denied travel documents from their countries of origin. Sometimes it’s because the country has no agreement with the U.S. for repatriation, at other times it’s because the country is using issuance of the travel document as leverage in negotiations. It is also sometimes the case that a country no longer has capacity to absorb the hundreds of thousands of people being deported each year, and so it refuses to issue travel documents. In small countries the massive and unexpected deportation of its nationals can have an exceptional effect on the home country which now must feed, clothe, house and assist in securing work and reintegration for hundreds if not thousands of people.

  8. I been deported since 1996 and I been relesed from prison 12 years ago.since them I get married .I pay my taxes.I been out of trouble since I have two american kids who depend on me,I haven't see my mother and family for 2 years because of this problem.I only whant to be a normal person .I knowi comitte crimeswhen I was young.but I learn long time ago my lessons.I am just a normal person like any body else..this govermentshould give me the oprtunity to be a normal person.I am not a criminal and like me thouands of cuban are in the same situation.people should be able to have chance to remade they life this peple are really racist.but is agod upthere watching the americans wha they doing to people like me.I won't be surprise if they pass this law.you are devils

  9. I been deported since 1996 and I been relesed from prison 12 years ago.since them I get married .I pay my taxes.I been out of trouble since I have two american kids who depend on me,I haven’t see my mother and family for 2 years because of this problem.I only whant to be a normal person .I knowi comitte crimeswhen I was young.but I learn long time ago my lessons.I am just a normal person like any body else..this govermentshould give me the oprtunity to be a normal person.I am not a criminal and like me thouands of cuban are in the same situation.people should be able to have chance to remade they life this peple are really racist.but is agod upthere watching the americans wha they doing to people like me.I won’t be surprise if they pass this law.you are devils

  10. Hello,
    My Name is Claire and My fiance is going through the same thing that you are going through.His crime was commited in 1984 and a judge gave him a deportation order.We are living in limbo.We as Cubans need to get together and fight for immigration reform.Soon before many other families are torn apart and destroyed what ever happened to second chances,And what an example the people who are running the government set for us it is a do as I say and don't do as I do society.Emai me I am going to get as much press release for this as possible.

  11. Hello,
    My Name is Claire and My fiance is going through the same thing that you are going through.His crime was commited in 1984 and a judge gave him a deportation order.We are living in limbo.We as Cubans need to get together and fight for immigration reform.Soon before many other families are torn apart and destroyed what ever happened to second chances,And what an example the people who are running the government set for us it is a do as I say and don’t do as I do society.Emai me I am going to get as much press release for this as possible.