Blog of Rights

Why Beliebers Should Care About Immigration Reform

By Diana Scholl, Communications Strategist, ACLU at 1:51pm

Update (01/23/2014): What Justin Bieber's Arrest Would Mean for Another Non-Citizen

As you may have heard, Justin Bieber is being investigated for egging his neighbor's home in Los Angeles. If the damage is found to be $400 or more, Bieber could be charged with felony vandalism under California law. A wrinkle that makes this different than the average pop star-in-peril situation is that because Bieber isn't a United States citizen, if he is convicted of a felony he could potentially be deported back to his native Canada. This potential loss to America is because under U.S. law, an aggravated felony or crimes of "moral turpitude" by non-citizens leads to mandatory detention and ineligibility for almost all relief.

While we at the ACLU aren't hardcore Beliebers (we're more Team Macklemore), we are watching with interest to see issues Bieber's situation will shine on the United States' dysfunctional immigration enforcement system, which doesn't offer due process to those caught up in its web.

Justin Bieber is not a typical case, and even under the Obama administration, it is unlikely he will be deported. To start with, as the USA Today noted, "Bieber is a rich and famous foreigner and they generally tend to have good lawyers."

Being able to afford counsel is essential in the immigration system. Unlike in criminal court, where the right to counsel is guaranteed to everyone regardless of their ability to pay, that is not true in immigration court, and 84 percent of people in immigration detention do not have any lawyer. And unlike Bieber, most come from countries where English is not the native language, making navigating the system without an attorney even more treacherous.

Bieber is also fortunate that he lives in California. Because of an ACLU victory in Rodriguez v. Robbins, immigration detainees are required to receive a bond hearing within six months of being locked up. This ruling applies to 25 percent of the country, including California, but the Obama administration has refused to implement it nationwide.

This lack of due process applies to all immigrants - regardless of their immigration status. So while Justin Bieber will probably be safe, we hope that he and his fans take this as an opportunity to learn about the millions of immigrants who do not have his resources, and support comprehensive immigration reform to repair our broken immigration system.

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