January 5, 1998
A tough new immigration law, which has resulted in a dramatic increase of deportations, is coming under attack for possibly violating constitutional guarantees of due process. Jeffrey Kaye of KCET Los Angeles examines the new law and the controversy that surrounds it.
JEFFREY KAYE: At U.S.-Mexico border crossings the traffic is brisk in both directions. Adding to the southbound flow are daily busloads of deportees. Deportations are at record high numbers. And at the border checkpoint that separates Calexico, California, from Mexicali in Mexico, hundreds of deportees a day leave the custody of the U.S. federal government and cross back into Mexico with little formality. A Mexican government official asks about citizenship. A local charity offers sandwiches, and within minutes the deportees disappear into Mexico.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
March 4, 1997:
Kwame Holman reports on Republican claims that election year politics played a role in the rules of citizenship.
February 21, 1997:
A forum on the declining economic power of Hispanics in America.
October 23, 1996:
Charles Krause reports on what Mexican-Americans call the new anti-immigrant climate La Amenza--the threat.
October 22, 1996:
A look at Senator Dole's and President Clinton's stands on immigration.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of law.
Immigration and Naturalization Service
Deportations are at record high numbers.
ALAN BERSIN: For the first time in the 1990's we see a border that is no longer neglected.
JEFFREY KAYE: As the U.S. attorney in San Diego, Alan Bersin helps coordinate federal law enforcement agencies on the Southwest border.
ALAN BERSIN: If you look statistically, there has been an increase in the number of removals from the United States, or deportations, by a factor of two. We've gone in 1995 to 1996 from 70,000 deportations to 111,000 deportations.
JEFFREY KAYE: The increase in deportations is due to a tougher immigration law which took effect in April, coupled with steady increases in the budgets of the INS, the Immigration & Naturalization Service.
The doubling of the Immigration & Naturalization Service's budget.
ALAN BERSIN: In the last four years in this country we've seen a doubling of the resources available to the INS from a billion and a half dollars to over three billion dollars. That's had an enormous impact.
JEFFREY KAYE: The INS has more agents to aggressively round up aliens who have been ordered deported but who remain in the country and more officers to deport non-citizens with criminal records. The new immigration law makes it harder for deportees to file appeals, and it provides for a controversial "expedited removal" process under which officials can turn people away at ports of entry. At border checkpoints, such as this one near San Diego, U.S. immigration agents inspect documents of motorists, as well as of pedestrians crossing into the country. This man gave his name as Joe.
AGENT: Do you have any ID with you?
JOE: No. I don't. I got robbed down here.
JEFFREY KAYE: The agent didn't believe him and led him to an area for a secondary inspection. This is a relatively new process where agents more thoroughly investigate and register suspicious border crossers.
AGENT: Do you have any form--
JEFFREY KAYE: Inspectors checked Joe's background using an updated computer tracking system. His references didn't check out, so even more suspicious, agents escorted him to a detention area for people awaiting formal deportation. Most of the deportees here had been caught trying to use other people's documents to cross the border. Agents took Joe's fingerprints, then put him in a cell. His rap sheet came within an hour--the product of a new coordinated effort between the INS and state law enforcement agencies. Joe had criminal convictions and a prior deportation.
INS AGENT: He'll go into custody.
AGENT 2: He's upstairs, and he's in cell 2.
JEFFREY KAYE: Since Joe had been deported before, officials decided to prosecute him for re-entering the country illegally. Those caught for the first time are barred from returning for five years under the new law. In addition, inspectors now have the power to deport people without judicial hearings. Immigration inspector Bill Snyder says that change is for the better.
BILL SNYDER: I think what it does do though, it allows the court system to spend the time on the cases that they need to spend time on instead of flooding the courts with a lot of these simpler cases that don't need to really be taking the time up of the judge.
JEFFREY KAYE: So, in a sense, would you say that you are kind of the prosecutor and the judge and the police all in one?
BILL SNYDER: Under certain inadmissible grounds, yes.
JEFFREY KAYE: And that, say some immigration lawyers, is a big problem. Carol Wolchok, director of the American Bar Association's Center for Immigration Law and Representation, says low level immigration officers have too much power.
CAROL WOLCHOK: The officers at the border can remove or expel anyone whom they believe to be carrying an improper document or a document they believe was improperly obtained. And so we've received reports of international business people arriving in the United States and being told that they're not carrying the proper document. In fact, they're carrying a document issued to them by the U.S. government, by the U.S. consulate in their home country, but, again, an INS employee has expelled them and issued orders barring their return.
JEFFREY KAYE: For five years.
CAROL WOLCHOK: For five years.
JEFFREY KAYE: That's the position in which Nigel and Rosemary Wilson recently found themselves. They're British citizens who live outside London with their daughter, Holly.
HOLLY: Is this parked?
JEFFREY KAYE: For eight years the Wilsons traveled between England and the United States, selling promotional items to U.S. Air Force bases. Holly was born in the U.S. so has a U.S. passport. Her parents traveled on business visas without problems until August.
NIGEL WILSON: It was only on this occasion that I came back with my wife and daughter, who is a U.S. citizen and has a U.S. passport, that it raised some problems, that they thought something was untoward.
JEFFREY KAYE: Immigration officials said the Wilsons had the wrong visas so would be deported.
NIGEL WILSON: And we were shackled to a bench and held there for 27 hours.
JEFFREY KAYE: All three of you?
NIGEL WILSON: They didn't shackle Holly. They just shackled Rosie and I.
ROSIE WILSON: I asked to see a lawyer, to seek some counsel; I asked to use the telephone; I was denied. They said, no, you're not using the telephone; you're not seeking counsel; you're not doing anything; you'll sit down on that bench, and you'll be quiet.
A violation of due process?
JEFFREY KAYE: The Wilsons are appealing the ban on returning to the U.S., but in the meantime, their U.S. business has collapsed. Nigel Wilson now drives a van for a living. The Wilsons are plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit, which claims the expedited removal procedure violates constitutional guarantees of due process. In Washington, at the INS headquarters, General Counsel David Martin declined to discuss particular cases but defended INS procedures.
DAVID MARTIN: Let's put it in context. We have nearly half a billion inspections at the border in a year, half a billion with a "b." Now, expected removal was an authority given to us. We had six months to start up a brand new program. In that process, of course, there may be cases that could be questioned one way or another, but we have developed a system that provides a very high degree of assurance, I believe, for fair treatment in these circumstances.
JEFFREY KAYE: Martin says if mistakes are made, deportees can re-apply for admission back into the United States. However, for some who have escaped from their native lands, that may not be so easy. Lawyer Wolchok says refugees have also been expelled without due consideration.
CAROL WOLCHOK: Refugees historically have arrived at our borders without proper travel documents. So, some of the people being turned away today, being deported back to the countries that they've fled, are the very refugees that the United States has pledged to protect. There have been cases of refugees being sent back to countries where they were persecuted. We know of individuals in hiding in Ecuador and hiding in Albania.
JEFFREY KAYE: Do you think enough consideration is given to people who may have fear of persecution?
DAVID MARTIN: I do in this process. It's a standard part of every one of those interviews, when it appears that someone's appropriate for expedited removal, to tell them that there is a process whereby you may claim persecution and have that heard, not by the inspector at the border, but by another official in a confidential setting.
The 1996 Immigration Law.
JEFFREY KAYE: While the expedited removal process is new, the bigger numbers of deportations come from an increased emphasis on removing criminal aliens. The 1996 Immigration Law expands the list of crimes for which aliens, even legal residents, can be deported, regardless of when the conviction took place. Increasingly, border patrol and immigration agents have become fixtures in jails and prisons.
In the federal building in downtown San Diego, agents use a video-phone to interrogate prisoners at a county jail 35 miles away. Typically, convicted criminals serve their time in the U.S. before they're deported. After release from prison, they're sent to an INS detention center, such as this one in California's Imperial Valley. Here, 80 percent of the prisoners are criminal aliens waiting to be deported. Many have committed violent crimes and are being expelled to countries where they grew up; others have different stories.
Thirty-five-year-old Claudio Ravalo is being sent back to the Philippines. He moved here legally at the age of seven. He leaves behind a common-law wife and four U.S.-born children. He says he was recently released from state prison after spending 14 months for illegal possession of stolen checks and firearms.
CLAUDIO RAVALO: The time that I did, I've served my sentence for that, and I should be, you know, given a second chance.
JEFFREY KAYE: But the new law doesn't allow for a second chance, an issue of concern to the Clinton administration. It believes immigration judges should have discretion.
DAVID MARTIN, INS: We want to be very serious about criminal aliens, and we think our track record shows that. But to have some greater capacity, particularly with old convictions, to think about individual circumstances, that's what we would like to see. And we're discussing that with Congress.
JEFFREY KAYE: Xavier Becerra, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, agrees. The Los Angeles Democrat says there should be more leeway, particularly if the convictions are old and for non-violent crimes.
XAVIER BECERRA: If someone fifteen or twenty years ago had some transgression that has lived a proper life, paying for that mistake, has a family, has ties to this country, it would cause a hardship for that individual and the family to see that individual deported, I think that would be wrong to do. But the law as it exists now allows us to pull that individual from his or her family.
JEFFREY KAYE: And would you like to see that change?
XAVIER BECERRA: Certainly we should have more discretion to ensure that what we're doing is going after the real criminals, the folks that we need to get out of the country.
JEFFREY KAYE: Texas Congressman Lamar Smith, the Republican chairman of the House Immigration Subcommittee, says he might be open to minor changes in the law that would allow judges some discretion, but, says Smith, non-citizens who commit crimes should pay the consequences.
REP. LAMAR SMITH: The hardship cases you hear about ignore one important factor, and that is these people who have been convicted of serious crimes have to take that responsibility themselves. It's not America that's hurt their family. They, themselves, have hurt their family, and they need to assume responsibility for their own actions. And if they have been convicted of a serious crime, they have forfeited the right to live among us if they're not citizens.
JEFFREY KAYE: In fact, Smith criticizes the INS for not deporting enough people.
REP. LAMAR SMITH: The administration is talking about, well, we deported over 100,000 individuals last year, and that's more than the year before and so on. But in point of fact what over 300,000 illegal aliens are coming in to the country every year, so the problem is getting worse, not better.
JEFFREY KAYE: Even INS officials admit they are deporting fewer people than are getting in illegally. But, they say, the border is far less porous than it used to be. As for the deportees, within an hour of their expulsion from the United States, some said their experience did not dissuade them from trying to re-enter the country.
JEFFREY KAYE: So what are you going to do now?
DEPORTEE: Try to go back.
JEFFREY KAYE: In Mexicali, many deportees, like Antonio, said they'd try to return to the United States to make a living. "We'll keep coming," said one man. "We come to work."