ACLU Endorses Bill Aimed at Protecting Vulnerable Immigrant Families From Unfair Deportations

July 17, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today said that it strongly supports a bill that would protect some legal permanent residents in the United States from unfair deportations, saying that such deportations often result in the destructive dissolution of loving families in America.

“This measure is a significant step toward restoring a needed measure of fairness in America’s immigration laws,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “The forced deportation of legal permanent residents, many of whom have lived here productively for decades, for minor offenses has had an enormously negative effect on thousands of families here.”

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) has introduced legislation that would rollback part of a broad 1996 immigration law that mandated the automatic deportation of any legal permanent resident who has been convicted of even minor offenses that were misleadingly reclassified as so-called “aggravated felonies.” House Judiciary Chair F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has negotiated a compromise with Rep. Frank to allow the bill to go forward with strong bipartisan support.

The original Frank bill would have allowed lawful permanent residents, whose offenses carried less than a five-year sentence, to apply for discretionary relief from forced deportation. Under the compromise, this relief is cut back to apply only to those who received a sentence of four years of less for non-violent offenses or two years or less for offenses classified as crimes of violence. Somewhat broader relief would be available for those who arrived in the United States at a young age.

While these compromise provisions will limit the impact of the bill, the ACLU said that the compromise still provides needed relief for many American families who have suffered the painful and unfair consequences of the 1996 laws. One important provision in the bill would cut back on mandatory detention for those made eligible for relief. Such detention has resulted in years of incarceration beyond any criminal sentence, even for those lawful permanent residents that the government has agreed are not dangerous. Four federal courts have ruled such detention unconstitutional and the Supreme Court is set to consider the question next term.

“Last year, the Supreme Court rejected some of the harshest consequences of the 1996 laws – now Congress should step up to the plate and finish the job,” Edgar said.

The bill, called the “Family Reunification Act” (HR 1452), is set for markup today in the full House Judiciary Committee.

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