Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Nina Bernstein writes for the NY Times:
Vincenzo Donnoli was 9 when his family immigrated legally to Brooklyn. He attended Erasmus Hall High School, married and divorced in Flatbush, ran a landscaping business and had five children. But at 51 he is back — alone and jobless — in Pomarico, the hill town in southern Italy where his father was a shepherd, as a deportee banned for life from returning to the United States.
His offense: two misdemeanor convictions for possessing small amounts of cocaine, in 1988 and 2006, both guilty pleas resolved without jail time. Retroactively, immigration authorities added them up to equal an “aggravated felony” that required Mr. Donnoli’s automatic deportation last year.
That kind of arithmetic, an aggressive government interpretation of 1996 immigration laws that has been increasingly invoked in recent years, was rejected by the Supreme Court in a unanimous decision in June. [Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder] But the ruling came too late for Mr. Donnoli and thousands of deportees like him, all former lawful residents who have no way to turn that legal vindication into a chance to come home.
“The Supreme Court has said in a series of cases that the government’s theories of deportation have been wrong for years,” said Daniel Kanstroom, a professor at Boston College Law School, citing earlier decisions that rejected the government’s classification of other minor crimes as deportable offenses. “And yet the legal system has not developed a mechanism to right that wrong for the thousands of people who have been wrongly deported.”
Under the ruling last month, which echoed decisions by four federal circuit courts, including the one covering New York, legal residents with minor drug convictions are eligible to have an immigration judge weigh their offenses against other factors in their lives and decide whether to let them stay.
But deportees who were denied such a hearing have no means to get one now. The Board of Immigration Appeals says it has no jurisdiction over any case after deportation. Government regulations prohibit any motion to reopen the case of someone who has left the country; judicial circuits are divided over that interpretation of immigration law, and a request that the Supreme Court consider the matter is pending. Click here for the rest of the story.