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Should immigrants who commit serious crimes be deported?

January 2018

By Sandeep Stanley, sandeep.stanley@iowastatedaily.com

While immigrants provide many essential services for our great nation, there is — as with all demographics — a criminal element we must consider. A prevailing question is whether immigrants who are found guilty of committing serious crimes should be deported. Notice especially the phrase “found guilty of” — our justice system is by no means infallible.

Keeping this in mind, it is truly shocking to see the prevalence of deportation advocates; this only serves to further underscore the American justice model as punitive, rather than rehabilitative. Of course, special attention must be given to repeat offenders, but deportation should absolutely be the exception and not the rule. There are three factors to keep in mind when considering this question: immigration status, the offense in question and the welfare of the countries receiving these troublemakers.

What does it mean to be an immigrant in today’s society, where we are broadly labeled as “criminals and rapists” by the executive administration itself? This open hostility creates a culture of resentment, where we begrudge those who toe the line as “making the rest of us look bad.” Indeed, a knee-jerk reaction is to advocate for them to be packed off somewhere else, so they are no longer our problem, and to deport the serious offenders who are besmirching the spotless records of model citizens.

However, who defines the concept of a serious offense? When the very administration who has the power to define those offenses, and to make exceptions for more minor crimes, seemingly has an active vendetta against immigrants, how can we trust them to draw the line acceptably?

The fact is, the definition of what constitutes a “criminal alien” hasn’t just been broadened, it was never defined in the first place.

In the entirety of U.S. immigration law and regulation, the term “criminal alien” was never defined, granting the administration even more power to judge the fates of those who commit even the most minor infraction. Those convicted of an aggravated felony face even stricter penalties. Crimes covered under this definition currently include theft, failing to appear in court, perjury and altering license plates.Those convicted of these crimes face penalties such as ineligibility for voluntary departure, mandatory unreviewable deportation following service of sentence and deportation without a removal hearing.

Are these criminal acts? Absolutely. Do they warrant such harsh penalties? Absolutely not.

And what of the criminals themselves, or the countries they are deported to? They are dropped into deplorable conditions without a penny to their name. They must contend with their new foes of poverty and homelessness in countries like Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador, places that most are completely unfamiliar with. And, as some will inevitably return to their old ways, it provides a horrific strain to the already weak criminal justice systems of those countries. Indeed, they are becoming our personal penal colonies.

Is it morally acceptable to be outraged at the crimes these offenders commit here but to turn a blind eye to their actions in the countries they are removed to?

You will, no doubt, notice that no distinction was drawn between legal and illegal immigrants. This was intentional. The definition of “criminal alien,” according to a Homeland Security report from 2013, includes illegal immigrants, those holding temporary visas and legal permanent residents, which is around 1.9 million individuals. No immigrant is safe from the scourge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office, and those who think themselves untouchable are deluded.

The fact of the matter is, it is perfectly acceptable to imprison both illegal and legal immigrants in the U.S. Not only will this position greatly benefit the private prison industry (a repulsive abomination, but one that we cannot avoid without a full overhaul of our prosecutor’s offices), but it removes the question of where to draw the line past which deportation is acceptable.

If we confine it solely to illegal immigrants, the argument will shortly be made to extend it to those on temporary visas as well. Past that, deportation of legal residents will quietly be made acceptable, and their scope made broader and broader until all non-citizens will be deportable for nothing more than sneezing the wrong way. A green card confers upon the holder all the privileges of a “permanent resident” of the United States, for better or for worse. And it should absolutely remain so.

This is an absolutely vital issue on which an opinion is as necessary as food or drink. The ambivalent will turn a blind eye until they are snatched out of their homes and sent to a country they hold no connection to, penniless and homeless, a veritable death sentence for the less astute. Take a stand and defend your brothers and sisters so that they will, in turn, defend you.

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