More than 260,000 foreign nationals convicted of drug offenses were deported by the United States from 2007 to 2012, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.
Information in the recently released report is based on data from by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued to Human Rights Watch pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request, the group said.
ICE said it does not willy nilly deport all those with drug convictions.
“ICE officers, agents, and attorneys continue to evaluate all cases on an individualized basis throughout the immigration enforcement process to consider any factors that may warrant the exercise of prosecutorial discretion when appropriate,” said ICE spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea. “In determining whether to exercise prosecutorial discretion, consideration is given to the alien’s criminal, immigration history, and humanitarian factors.”
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The 93-page report takes ICE to task because, it says, deportations are shattering families and often stem from old convictions of offenses that are minor.
“Deportations of non-citizens whose most serious conviction was for a drug offense increased 22 percent from 2007 to 2012, totaling more than 260,000 deportations over the same period,” according to the report, A Price Too High. “ICE claims that it does not keep track of whether these individuals were lawful permanent residents or undocumented immigrants. But, as detailed in this report, the U.S. is deporting a significant number of both permanent residents and undocumented individuals with strong family and community ties to the U.S., often for minor or old drug offenses.”
Immigrant rights activists said policies should be modified to account for foreign nationals arrested and convicted for drug offenses and targeted for deportation
“The failures of drug policy disproportionately affect communities of color, including immigrants,” said Armando Gudino, policy manager for Drug Policy Alliance, California. “The broader movement to reform the sentencing and prosecution of minor drug crimes must include efforts to end mass deportations for such offenses.”
Among examples of what the report suggested were unnecessary deportations, it described the case of Arnold Aguayo, a 38-year-old Mexican-born permanent resident with five U.S.-born children in California.
Arrested several times for methamphetamine possession, he ultimately was referred to treatment but failed to keep up with the requirement. Ultimately, police arrested him for violating probation and eventually immigration officials put him on a deportation track.
In the end, his Mexican girlfriend broke up with Aguayo and took two of their children to Mexico with her, the report said.
The report says immigration authorities should reform requirements for deportation of drug offenders, just like federal law enforcement officials are seeking to ease punishment on U.S. drug offenders.
“The U.S. Department of Justice has announced new reforms and initiatives intended to address the fact that half of the more than 200,000 people in federal prisons are incarcerated for drug offenses,” the report says. “Dozens of states have enacted far-reaching reforms, from providing judges with more discretion in sentencing drug offenders to decriminalizing and even legalizing possession of marijuana.”
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