A Coalition of American and Legal Permanent Resident Family
Members of Legal Residents Adversely Affected
by Enactment of AEDPA and IIRIRA
Statement of John Madrid
Last summer I received an e-mail from my kid sister with a subject heading: Emergency 9111111! It read that the INS was trying to deport my 21 year-old brother, Eddyn Lopez. I freaked out and asked my sister to fax me all the legal documents, but before we could do anything my big brother was exiled to Honduras within a few days. My brother has lived in this country since age 1½ . He had his green card since he was 11. Did the immigration system perpetuate injustice? Damn straight.
It all started in 1993 when our mom died in a car accident involving a drunk driver. Her death threw my families life into chaos. Eventually, I got caught up in the foster care system, and he got caught up in the juvenile “justice” system. What were the crimes that put him in juvvy? Trivial things – like carrying a knife banned in his area, which he carried for protection. Or purchasing tobacco as a minor.
There was never anybody there to advocate for him or help him focus his life. From age 13 to 18, Eddyn had to handle all the stresses of the world, completely alone. He never reached out to people because he always had a problem expressing himself. He never showed his feelings with words; he showed it with actions. If he wanted to express affection, he’d do you a favor or hug you, if he wanted to let you know he’s not upset at you, he’d tickle you.
The neighbors, who he often helped out with yard work, were floored when they found out he was caught up in the juvenile justice system. Eddyn was well liked in our community and everybody thought he was a giving person. For example, after our mom died, there were lawsuits and a settlement. We lost, but received $3,900 each when we turned 18. When Eddyn received his money, he gave $1,200 of it to a homeless family to help them make the down payment on a mobile home.
I ended up going to Stanford, and a huge reason why I think I made it is because at critical moments in my life, people stepped in and gave me something Eddyn never had: they believed in me. You know what? Eddyn had a reading disability, but he always got “A’s” in math at school. Imagine if somebody had come in and helped Eddyn appreciate and realize his strengths.
When you have no mother, no father, no supportive adult figures, it’s a pretty scary and lonely world. Eddy got caught up in the juvenile justice system because he got in with the wrong crowd, but they made him feel like he belonged. Unbeknownst to him, his loyalty and unselfishness would work against him.
When he was 19, a bunch of his friends asked him if he wanted to go for a ride. He got in and just before they crashed the car that night, he found out that the car was stolen. Because of his misplaced loyalty, and his friends were minors, he took the whole conviction on himself: grand theft auto. His public defender scared him into thinking that unless he cut a deal and pleaded no contest to the prosecution, he would likely get 3 years. Eddyn didn’t know better; 16 months sounds a hell of a lot better than 3 years. Little did he know that sixteen months was actually a life sentence in exile.
At the end of his time in prison, the INS instigated proceedings to deport Eddyn. They said that his “crime” was an “aggravated felony,” so they imprisoned him for six more months while they worked a case up against him. At first, we didn’t even know that he was having problems because he was too embarrassed to ask for help. They wouldn’t tell us where he was being kept at one point, and he was held too far away for any of us to give him any tangible support. The court was not obligated to give him a lawyer, so he had no access to a lawyer or good legal advice.
He’s now plowing land in a country as foreign to him as it is to you and I, a land where the water is killing his health with skin blemishes and diarrhea, a land where he barely speaks the language anymore. He left behind a two-year old son who is floating through the rats’ nest of the foster care system. He left behind a lot of grief-stricken neighbors and family. He left behind a brother that misses him a whole lot.
How do I feel about it? I feel cheated. It made no sense for the INS to punish my brother and my family all over again, to banish him for life from the only place that has ever been home. It made no sense to lock him up away from those of us who love and care about him without even giving him a chance to defend himself. It made no sense that my brother and my family didn’t even have our day in court.
I’m a proud U.S. citizen, and I’m here to ask Congress to make sense of things again.
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