NonCitizen Criminals Face Deportation

Noncitizen criminals face deportation

The McClatchy Newspapers, January 6, 2010

San Jose, CA — Roger Simmie is no angel.

Twenty years ago, the Mountain View, Calif., carpenter was convicted of resisting arrest and drug possession. Fifteen years after that, he was found guilty of battering his girlfriend. Three times, he has been convicted of drunken driving.

But it's what he didn't do that got him locked up recently in the Santa Clara County Jail. Simmie, a Scot by birth who fought in Vietnam as a U.S. Marine, never applied for U.S. citizenship.

Now he finds himself facing deportation as one of nearly 400,000 immigrants incarcerated in 2009 by the U.S. government. A growing number of noncitizens who have been living in this country as legal permanent residents are learning that run-ins with the law, even minor ones, are translating into life-altering, one-way tickets to homelands they no longer know.

A report from Human Rights Watch found that 1 out of 5 'criminal aliens' deported from 1997 to 2007 had been in the country legally. The report found that 77 percent of the deportations were for nonviolent crimes.

Congress passed its last major immigration bill in 1996. Since then, the number of detainees has grown fourfold as new biometric technology, huge databases and more boots on the ground have made it easier for Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to track down immigrants.

If immigrants have been in the U.S. fewer than five years, they can be deported for a single crime of 'moral turpitude,' a broad term that includes shoplifting and pot possession. If they're here longer than five years, they can be deported for either one aggravated felony or two crimes of moral turpitude.

Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for ICE, said: 'The vast majority of immigrants who come here comply with laws, lead productive lives and contribute to society. But, if you come here as a guest of this country and you break our laws, you risk forfeiting the right to remain here.'

EDITORS NOTE: The HRW report is available online at: