Washington Heights speak-out against Deportation-Caribbean Life
On Saturday, Nov.14, from 11a.m. to 1:00p.m., a coalition of immigrant advocacy organizations hosted a Town Hall in Washington Heights to address the epidemic of deportations that are occurring amongst legal permanent residents in New York. Families, clergy and lawyers called on New York’s elected officials to demand that all individuals facing deportation receive a fair day in immigration court.
Before an audience of over 100 individuals Congressman Charles Rangel said, “We’re going to need a lot of meetings politically. We’ll also need a lot of our clergy. You can depend on me and members of the Hispanic Caucus – as well as a whole lot of good Democrats – who are introducing a bill this Thanksgiving regarding discretion and many more things.” He stated his support for judicial discretion, as well as his commitment to working towards a humane and moral comprehensive immigration reform, one in which deportation is not considered a viable solution.
Clergy members from Churches United to Save and Heal, a coalition of pastors, ministers, and bishops from churches in Brooklyn, began the event with an inspiring prayer that emphasized that all people are God’s children, and should not be reduced to criminals.
Various family members impacted by deportation were on hand to speak about the loss of children, parents, and spouses, as well as the horrible situations faced by people in detention centers. Sharon Brown-Duncan, a US Citizen, spoke about how her husband, who was a green card holder and a resident of the US for 29 years, was deported to Jamaica in 2005. “If immigration judges were able to use judicial discretion, my husband may still be here today, supporting his family,” said Ms. Brown-Duncan.
Angela Fernandez, executive director of NMCIR, reiterated Congressman Rangel’s statement by explaining the injustice of deportation. “There are many legal permanent residents, who have lived here for more than 20 years, built productive lives and have US citizen spouses and children, and because of minor convictions, such as two turnstile jumping charges from many years ago, find themselves in mandatory deportation proceedings.” Mandatory deportation bars an immigration judge from hearing the details of a person’s life and assessing those details to make a decision as to whether a legal permanent resident should or should not be deported.
Udi Ofer, advocacy director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, emphasized that, according to the United States Constitution, the right to a fair day in court is not limited only to U.S. citizens and naturalized citizens, but that it is a right for every person in this country. A fair day in court would expand opportunities for relief from deportation and provide more opportunities for immigration judges to take into account all factors in the life of a legal resident.
The experience of Dominicans is illustrative of how destructive the current immigration laws can be. Nearly 1.6 million Dominicans immigrants reside in the United States and since 1996 almost 40,000 have been deported. On average, 200 to 300 Dominicans are deported each month, many of whom are barred from presenting any factors that would allow a judge to weigh whether deportation is indeed a fair outcome.
Shannon McKinnon, an attorney from the Immigration Unit of the Legal Aid Society, explained how harsh immigration laws enacted in 1996 have led to the deportation of many long-time legal residents of the United States.
“The 1996 changes to the immigration law impact lawful permanent residents by expanding the definition of which crimes make such residents removable while also limiting the availability of relief for residents who are placed in removal proceedings. Because of these limits on relief, many residents are not allowed to present the equities of their case to an immigration judge and instead are mandatorily removable,” said Shannon McKinnon.
“The goal of this Town Hall was to educate the community and elected officials about the negative impact the 1996 immigration reforms has had on our community. The next steps after this Town Hall is to introduce a bill that would allow immigration judges the ability to actually judge and make a determination as to whether deportation is a fair and proportional outcome for a legal permanent resident who finds themselves in proceedings,” said Ms. Fernandez.
Besides Congressman Rangel, Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez was present, and representatives from the offices of Sen.or Kirsten Gillibrand, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, Congressman Jose Serrano, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer were present.
The event was co-sponsored by Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, Breakthrough, Centro Altagracia de Fe y Justicia, Churches United to Save and Heal, Families for Freedom, the Immigrant Defense Project, Immigration Unit of Legal Aid Society, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem: Immigrant Rights Project, The New York Civil Liberties Union, and Congressman Charles B. Rangel’s Office.