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Heartbreaking: 'I Served My Country. Then It Deported Me'

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Must-read at Politico is the story of Howard Dean Bailey, an immigrant from Jamaica who served his country — and then was deported.

Bailey was 17 when he followed his mother from Jamaica to the US, immigrating legally with a green card.  After high school, he enlisted in the US Navy and served for four years before being honorably discharged.  He married, had two kids, and started a trucking business.  He made one mistake shortly after leaving the Navy: he agreed to carry a number of packages for a “friend,” which unbeknown to him contained marijuana.  Advised to take a plea deal rather than risk even more time, Bailey served 15 months in a state work camp, not realizing that his guilty plea invalidated his legal permanent resident status.  After he applied for citizenship decades later, armed immigration officers stormed his home and arrested him in front of his family, then deported him to a country he hadn’t been in 24 years. As Bailey explained, “I know a lot more about American immigration law now. No one—not the judge, nor the lawyer I’d hired—told me when I pleaded guilty to the drug charge that I was giving up my right to be a legal permanent resident of the United States.”

Bailey’s story follows the recent discussion of the ENLIST Act, in which House Republicans like Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) tried to move a small-bore bill to help immigrants — but were shot down by the likes of Steve King and Mo Brooks, who voiced ugly skepticism that immigrants could be loyal enough to the US to serve.  And Bailey’s punishment, grossly disproportionate to his crime, is reminiscent of cases like Alfredo Ramos‘, who was indicted by a federal grand jury for re-crossing the border to reunite with his family after a deportation.  At every step along the way, Bailey was told that the law’s hands were tied.  And now, his family suffers without his presence.

Read Bailey’s full, heartbreaking story here.  His conclusion follows below, in which he asks how politicians can extol the virtues of servicemembers and veterans — then deport one of them — and how the Obama Administration can claim to prioritize the deportation of violent criminals — and then remove someone who only wanted to provide for his family.

The emphasis is ours:

My family is falling apart. Judith couldn’t run the trucking business, and so it has died. We lost our house through foreclosure, and she has lost hope. We’re no longer in touch and she’s made it clear she has to move on with her life without me. She’s told me how lonely she is and that she needs help that I can no longer provide.

My son and daughter, who were good and enthusiastic students when we were a family together, are now struggling in school. Demique was caught stealing a cell phone; he’d asked me for one and I couldn’t afford it, but I can see how it would be hard for a teenager not have a cell phone in this day and age. When Jada, who’s 16 now, and I talk on the phone, she tells me how hard her life has become—she wants to go on school trips and be in the cheerleading squad, but we just don’t have the money.My best memories of my family are the road trips we would take together. Jada says she cries when she hears songs that we’d listen to on the road; I do, too.

Before I was detained, I’d started teaching Demique to drive in a vacant parking lot near our house. He was eager and attentive, and I was excited too, because my son was growing into a wonderful young man. “You’re the one who will be driving me around soon,” I’d tell him. I promised to give him his first car once he finished high school, and now I’ve broken that promise.

I can do nothing to help them. And that makes me want to die.

It’s still so hard for me to understand how I wound up here. I served in the United States Navy with pride and honor; I am a husband and father; I was a business and homeowner. I made a mistake, but that was 19 years ago and I never made another. In a country where marijuana laws are changing every day, where marijuana is now legal in two states, how could my one accidental encounter with someone else’s drug deal have destroyed my family?

I don’t know if any politicians will read this. I hear them talk about America’s duty to our veterans and about the need for a “humane” immigration system and about family values. Then I see them pass laws that tear families like mine apart and force people to lose their humanity. I’ve met judges and immigration officials who said that they wanted to help. I believe they felt compassion for me. But all of them said their hands were tied by Congress’s mandatory detention and deportation laws and the Obama administration’s enforcement “priorities.”

President Obama has said that the U.S. is prioritizing deportations of “criminals, gang bangers, people who are hurting the community” and not going after “folks who are here just because they’re trying to figure out how to feed their families.” But I’ve never been a danger to my community, and I’ve never wanted anything more than to be a good father and provider. And by prioritizing so-called criminals the government is failing to consider anything else about our lives before automatically banishing us from our homes.

My story is one of at least 2 million under this presidency alone. I think we deserve at least a chance to ask a judge to let us stay with our families in the country we call home.