ACLU Asks Court to Halt Deportation of Legal Immigrant Under Retroactive Law

September 9, 1999 12:00 am

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Rhode Island ACLU
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PROVIDENCE, RI — The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of a legal immigrant facing deportation under a retroactive provision of a harsh anti-immigrant law.

The ACLU lawsuit is but the latest challenge to draconian anti-immigrant laws enacted by Congress three years ago, including a provision allowing the deportation and continued jailing of lawful immigrants for mistakes they made many years ago and for which they have already paid their debt to society. In some cases, an immigrant may have pleaded guilty to a crime for which he was advised there would be no adverse immigration consequences.

Such is the case, the ACLU said, with Carlos Garcia-Nunez, a legal resident of United States for the past 18 years. In 1995, he pled guilty to a minor drug offense and served five months in prison — a sentence that was reduced by the judge because of his minor role in the crime and because of “extraordinary family circumstances.” In addition, the government agreed not to seek deportation.

But one year after Garcia’s plea, Congress passed a harsh anti-immigrant law, providing for the automatic deportation of legal immigrants sentenced for a wide variety of criminal offenses.

In its lawsuit, the ACLU is asking the court to rule that retroactive enforcement of the law in Garcia’s case is illegal and to overturn the order of deportation that was issued against him.

“Garcia’s criminal plea rested almost exclusively on the knowledge that he was eligible for a waiver from deportation and was almost certain to receive it,” said ACLU volunteer attorney Randy Olen.

“The profound unfairness of what has happened to him should be apparent to all,” he added. “The government’s position is demeaning to the central role that fairness plays in our concept of justice.”

According to the ACLU’s complaint, Garcia has a good employment history and has “demonstrated complete rehabilitation since his conviction, and evidences, primarily through his service to his family, outstanding character values.”

Indeed, in reducing Garcia’s sentence to five months, the judge cited “extraordinary family circumstances,” including the care of his 8-year-old son, who was born with serious medical problems, and of his grandaughter, whose mother has been institutionalized with psychiatric problems for years.

“These new immigration laws that automatically deport someone and offer no opportunity for humanitarian relief are oppressive,” Olen said. “And the government has compounded the unfairness by seeking to apply these laws retroactively.”

Seeking to redress the injustice of these anti-immigrant laws, the ACLU has joined a nation-wide campaign to “Fix ’96.” The goal of the campaign is to restore the balance and wisdom of our traditions as a nation of immigrants and a nation of just laws. For more information on the campaign, link to the ACLU’s “Fix ’96” feature at /features/fix96.html.

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