Beyond Borders, United States

New York Reviews Deportation Policies for Immigrants Facing Minor Criminal Charges

May 11, 2010 By Alison Bowen

A marijuana plant.

Immigrants arrested for decades-old or minor violations, like marijuana possession, may soon be less subject to deportation in at least one state.

Last week, New York state officials promised to ease deportations of immigrants who had committed minor violations. The New York Times reported that the state’s governor, David Paterson, plans to grant more pardons to immigrants facing deportation.

Paterson announced he would establish a five-member panel to review deportation cases, particularly for immigrants facing charges of old or minor criminal violations.

For years, advocates have argued that strict immigration laws make even immigrants with legal status vulnerable to deportation for minor violations.

The American Immigration Council’s Immigration Policy Center reported April 26 that 10 percent of immigrants deported each year are legal permanent residents, and 68 percent of these legal residents are deported for minor, non-violent violations.

Laws passed in 1996 created more restrictions on who could remain in the country legally, and violations that previously didn’t flag an immigrant for deportation – like marijuana possession – now ensnare legal residents alongside undocumented immigrants.

Immigrant advocates say that often, immigrants facing misdemeanor charges plead guilty, hoping this will end the situation, but they may not realize – and might not be notified by their lawyers – that pleading guilty affects their immigration status.

This issue arose in April, when the Supreme Court ruled that lawyers must advise their noncitizen clients about the deportation risks of pleading guilty to a crime.

The central character in the case was Jose Padilla, arrested in 2001 with more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana. He was a legal permanent resident who had served in the Vietnam War, according to The New York Times. He pleaded guilty, he said, after his lawyer incorrectly advised him that it would not affect his immigration status.

This year, the Supreme Court also considered a case about whether immigrants with drug possession offenses should be deported without being able to present their cases to an immigration judge.

In an April 30 press release, Amnesty International criticized an immigration reform bill proposed by New York Senator Charles Schumer, expressing concern that it didn’t protect immigrants deported for minor violations. The group stressed that Congress should consider “the amount of time living in the U.S., presence of family members, community ties and employment history.”

Image: Dey @ Flickr.

About Alison Bowen

Alison is a Missouri native and New York City freelance writer who has wanted to cover Latin America since studying Spanish in Central America. After moving to Brooklyn, her work has appeared in The New York Times, the Daily News, the Manhattan Times and Women’s eNews. She earned a master’s degree in journalism and Latin American and Caribbean studies at New York University. Her thesis focused on immigration policies after September 11, including counterterrorism measures, and their effects on the daily lives of immigrants in New York City.


[…] New York state is reviewing its deportation policies for immigrants facing minor criminal charges. Read more at the latest installation of Alison Bowen’s blog, Beyond Borders. […]

Frank says:

Hate to inform the misguided Gov. but he has no authority to review the cases. I’d love to see them ignore federal law….doesn’t he have enough to worry about?

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