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Yesterday, in response to fierce and growing criticism about the Obama Administration’s record-breaking deportations, the President declared he was the “Champion-in-Chief” for immigration. Apparently, his political appointees haven’t gotten the message. We’ve known for years that the Department of Homeland Security, particularly ICE and Border Patrol, are out of control and their big boss—the President—has so far failed to rein them in.
But, there’s another problem within the Obama administration’s deportation machinery: the U.S. Department of Justice.
Attorney General Holder and U.S. Attorneys around the country — all of whom are appointed by President Obama — have launched a “get tough” strategy on immigration has been to throw the book at ordinary undocumented immigrants and then claim credit for prioritizing the deportation of “criminal aliens.” Case in point: Jose Alfredo Ramos Gallegos, a 24-year Ohio resident and father of two U.S. citizens for trying to reunite with his family.
Currently, Alfredo is being held at the Erie Prison in Erie, Pennsylvania. He was referred to the Border Patrol after Mentor (OH) Police stopped a car he was riding in on February 8, 2014. Even though Alfredo was only a passenger in the car, he was questioned about his immigration status and both he and the driver were taken away in handcuffs in front of his daughter. Alfredo has lived in the U.S. for 24 years, since he was 16. He was deported once, 15 years ago, but his pregnant wife—a U.S. citizen–urged him to return. Since then Alfredo has lived peacefully in the U.S., taking care of his family, with no arrests or other problems.
Right now, U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton intends to prosecute Alfredo for illegal re-entry. Hickton was appointed to his job by President Obama in May of 2010.
Since there is no statute of limitations on immigration “crimes,” the Obama administration is still planning to charge Ramos with the re-entry offense despite the fact that it occurred 15 years ago and he has been a model resident ever since. As this video of his youngest daughter Diona, a U.S. citizen, shows, Alfredo’s prosecution and deportation would be devastating for his family and loved ones.
In addition to the Justice Department’s disregard for discretion in Alfredo’s case, the circumstances around Alfredo’s detention by local police in Mentor, OH remain highly suspect. He was a passenger in a van that was pulled over, ostensibly for running a yellow light. But as a passenger, Ramos had nothing at all to do with the decision to go or stop at a traffic light. And, two other cars cleared the intersection after the van he was riding in was stopped by police, but the other cars were let go.
According to Veronica Dahlberg, Executive Director of HOLA Ohio:
What is happening to Alfredo—a long-established and upstanding member of our community, who I know well–is beyond my comprehension. And shamefully, this is only one of many cases in our small town in Northeast Ohio. With increasing frequency, hard-working immigrant fathers and mothers in Painesville, Ohio, who pose no danger to society, are being charged with federal crimes that carry stiff prison sentences. It is painful for me to see so many farm workers and factory workers handcuffed, shackled and dressed in prison-issue orange jumpsuits because they came to America to work and provide a better life for their families. With my 20 years working with the immigrant community, I have never seen anything like this. Even victims of human and labor trafficking are being prosecuted while the perpetrators go free. We are left to pick up the pieces of the shattered families, often women and children who are left behind and plunged into utter poverty, when husbands and fathers are put in federal prison and deported. They are the devastating casualties of our federal government’s zeal to crack down on immigrants. It has to stop.
Today, immigration accounts for 52% of all federal prosecutions while drug offenses, the next-largest category, account for just 12%. Re-entry after deportation—a felony—is the number one offense prosecuted by the federal government. So, when the President and his appointees talk about criminals, that’s often what they mean.
Illegal re-entry cases are up 76% under the Obama Administration – amounting to an assembly line to turn undocumented immigrants into convicted felons. That’s hardly what we’d expect from a self-professed “champion.”
An immigrant with no criminal record, who has just returned to the country to care for his family, is faced with a terrible choice: either he can plead guilty and serve a light sentence (0-6 months) but become a “criminal alien”, a target for future deportation, and likely ineligible for future legal immigration status; or he can try to fight the case, which involves remaining in jail for several months while waiting for a trial, and risking a guilty verdict anyway.
The Department of Justice and its U.S. Attorneys have the discretion to stop this outrage. David Hickton could. And, if we actually had a “champion-in-chief” on immigration maybe this would stop. But, DOJ is fully engaged in the Obama administration’s deportation machinery.