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Trini lawyer presses Obama on US deportation policies

By Jared Mccallister Sunday, January 3 2010

BACK IN APRIL at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, some Caribbean leaders had a brief chat with President Obama and expressed their concerns on issues such as overseas tax havens and drug trafficking.

And when Trinidad-born attorney Arlene Roberts heard talk of a more in-depth future meeting planned between Obama and Caricom (Caribbean Community) leaders in Washington, she vowed to make sure the important issue of detention and deportation of Caribbean immigrants was prominent on the agenda.

Roberts, in her 2009 report The Faces of Detention and Deportation: A Report on the Forced Repatriation of Immigrants from the English-Speaking Caribbean (and Related Policy Recommendations), lays out the international dimensions of the crisis and puts out solutions, which include policy recommendations for the United States and the Caricom governments, and actions by Caribbean consulates in America.

The effects of the legislation in its current form are like a brutal one-two punch for Caribbean immigrants, Roberts explains.

First, principal breadwinners are too often removed from families here in the America, destabilising those households. Second, “On the receiving end, many Caribbean nations — ill-equipped to absorb the influx of deportees — are overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all, and are experiencing ongoing strains in social services,” she writes.

And in a letter to Obama, she explains that too many deportees are being mislabelled as desperate criminals. “The report is also a humble attempt on my part to dispel the myth of the deportee as a career criminal wreaking havoc on Caribbean society. Many deportees have gone on to lead rather productive lives, after readjusting to life in the country of their birth,” she says, adding that: “There’s no better time to do so than now” to deal with the matters of detention and deportation.

“The surge in the number of deportees to the Caribbean can trace its provenance to laws passed in 1996 — the Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) and (the) Antiterrorism Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA).”

Under the laws — which are retroactive — “minor crimes — petty theft, shoplifting, low-level drug infractions and drunk driving — were now reclassified as aggravated felonies and added to the list of deportable offenses, along with minor traffic violations and urinating in public,” sending hundreds of nationals back to Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and other countries in the region, she says.

Among Roberts’ recommendations are:

The reexamination of the IIRIRA and AEDPA, revisiting mandatory detention and deportation, retracting the definition of aggravated felony, and giving immigration judges the power to act on a case-by-case basis.



The passage of the Child Citizen Protection Act, which gives immigration judges the power to stop an alien parent of a United States-citizen child from being deported.



The creation of a unified front among Caricom leaders “in the face of deportations en masse, notwithstanding the disparities in impact that criminal deportation is having from island to island,” and the development of social service programmes to help countries cope.



Have Caribbean consulates in the US create public awareness about deportation.



Although the Obama-Caricom meeting in Washington has not yet been held, Roberts has been sharing the report’s findings and its recommendations with officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the US Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and others.

She also sent a letter to Obama on the matter.

(Courtesy The New York Daily News)

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