Thursday, June 7, 2007
Paris Hilton was freed from jail early Thursday morning, just three days after she began serving a 23-day sentence for violating probation after a drunk driving conviction, officials said Thursday. "After extensive consultations with medical personnel it was determined that Paris Hilton will be reassigned to our community-based ... electronic monitoring programme," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore. "She has been fitted with an ankle bracelet and will be confined to her home for the next 40 days."
Would we deport Paris Hilton for this offense? Of course not. In fact, for her conviction, Hilton will now be under house arrest. No restitution, no community service, and no more jail time. Yet, every day, the United States deports lawful immigrants and refugees who have been convicted of minor offenses such as shoplifting and writing bad checks. Yes, some have committed more serious crimes involving violence or narcotics, but all have been incarcerated, then deported on top of that. They come from all over the world: Mexico, Asia, Canada, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. The U.S. Supreme Court even endorsed the deportation of a Somalian refugee, convicted of assault, back to Somalia, where no formal government exists. In 2002, the United States began deporting Cambodian refugees convicted of crimes back to communist-dominated Cambodia. So recent announcements of ICE rounding up and removing hundreds of so-called "illegal immigrants" who have committed crimes, clouds the fact that the agency is also engaged in deporting lawful permanent resident aliens (those with "green cards") and refugees convicted of crimes. And these deportees have served their sentences in the criminal justice system before being deported.
In years past, deportation relief might have been afforded to many of these people if certain hardships or rehabilitation could be established, but an overhaul of the immigration laws in 1996 closed this avenue for a second chance to most "alien criminals." And what about fixing the 1996 laws as part of the current immigration debate going on in Congress today? Not even on the radar screen.
As a sovereign nation, we certainly have the technical authority to punish and remove these people from our country. But even though we have this power, how, when and on what basis should we exercise it? Are we really proud of deporting people who entered the country as infants to a land where they have no real ties? People who have served their criminal sentences? People who may have convincing evidence of rehabilitation? People who have stable families and communities ready to help get them back on their feet? Many of these deportees deserved a second chance, but our system provided them with no opportunity to present their cases. Ridding the country of criminal elements attributable to foreign sources is an admirable goal, but there are several arguments against using deportation as the means to achieving this goal. The first is the impact that deportation has on citizen family members and employers. Second, many deportable foreign nationals have resided in the United States since infancy. Third, deportation implies a failure on the part of the criminal justice system to rehabilitate incarcerated persons, forcing them to serve sentences imposed by U.S. courts and leave the country immediately afterwards in order to protect the public.
Rethinking removal and developing reasonable alternatives is a challenge that requires our immediate attention. Our current deportation policy destroys the lives of those who fall prey to it, and it destroys U.S. families and communities in the process. Nothing is gained, and ultimately, we all lose. It's time to rethink deportation as the only option for longtime immigrant and refugee residents of the United States. It's time to think about a other options like probation, community service, counseling, or a restorative justice approach to these challenges.
The world of corporate fraud prosecutions also suggests an interesting tool that could be useful in developing alternatives to deportation for criminal aliens. In response to the extent of corporate scandals, federal prosecutors have adopted strategies to manage the complexity of prosecutions and to foster better behavior on the part of corporations. For example, by using prosecution guidelines, prosecutors can elect to defer prosecution in cases where the corporation cooperates with investigatory agents and takes remedial actions to remedy its illegal behaviors. This culminates in a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) between the government and the corporation, which is essentially a form of probation, or "pretrial diversion," where the government suspends charges against the company if all the details of the agreement are fulfilled.
DPAs provide tremendous rehabilitative incentives to the corporations that are party to them. This innovation in the world of corporate scandal where billions of dollars may be involved and the lives of officers, board members, employees, and shareholders are at stake?is adaptable to the criminal immigrant deportation setting. Why not monitor and impose conditions on such individuals for a reasonable period of time to see if rehabilitation is possible? Why not provide government attorneys or immigration judges with the authority to implement such conditions?
Paris Hilton is lucky she did not enter the country as a toddler from a Thai refugee camp. If she had, she might be faced with an armed escort to Phnom Penh. bh