Blog Archive

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Deportation tears apart families, some say; Break the law and risk getting booted, federal government says amid crackdown

SEPTEMBER 26, 2010

Eivan Kashat, a housewife and mother of four, is facing the prospect of being torn from her kids and deported to Iraq because of two weak moments in a department store several years ago.

In 1996, at 23, she was convicted of shoplifting a pair of shoes, a toy and some clothes from Montgomery Ward. In 2002, she was convicted again, this time for stealing from Lord & Taylor.

It was those misdemeanor convictions -- spotted in a recent criminal background check run during Kashat's green card renewal -- that brought federal agents to her doorstep in Farmington Hills at 8 p.m. Aug. 31, the night she and 28 others in metro Detroit were arrested in a Midwest sweep that netted 370 arrests for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office (ICE).

Lawyers who handle immigration cases, as well as some legal experts, say such sweeps are part of a stepped-up national effort to thwart illegal immigration as the debate rages in Washington over comprehensive immigration reform, including efforts that could give some illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, a record number of nearly 400,000 immigrants were deported last year -- more than double the number of those deported since the start of the decade. About half of the deported are convicted criminals; the other half are just in the U.S. illegally.

Those arrested in metro Detroit included child molesters, drug dealers, a man who beat his wife, embezzlers and Kashat, the shoplifter.

"Why aren't they exercising some discretion? ... She's certainly not dangerous," argued William Swor, who helped Kashat get released from jail on a $3,000 bond. Her next step is fighting deportation.

Rebecca Adducci, ICE's assistant field director in Detroit, said the answer to Swor's question and the message to those in the country illegally is simple: "You can't come here and commit crimes and expect it to just be OK," she said.

Attorneys who specialize in representing clients who illegally enter the United States say the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office is cutting deeper into the immigrant community than ever before, tearing families apart and triggering a firestorm of public controversy.

"I think they're pushing as hard as they can," said Andrea Ferrara, a 15-year veteran immigration attorney who has numerous clients with deep roots in the U.S. facing deportation, some have seriously ill children.

"There's an effort to remove and purge as many illegal aliens out of the country before the laws change to give amnesty to folks who've been here a long time," she said.

Federal defender Rafael Villarruel, who has handled immigration cases in Detroit for 25 years, said he has witnessed the same.

There's a trend in which immigrants who have spent a big chunk of their lives in the U.S. are being sent back in record numbers, he said.

"It's offensive. It's repugnant," he said of the deportation movement, saying the government needs to make "some humane decisions about how we're going to treat people who have been here for a long time."

Federal officials say the number of deportations has increased, with ICE hitting a high last year of more than 393,000 people. Between 1998 and 2007, a little more than 100,000 parents who entered this country illegally but had U.S.-born children were deported, according to the Homeland Security Department.

Attorney Swor, whose client, Kashat, is facing deportation to Iraq over years-old shoplifting charges, said: "She got herself together. She got the help she needed. The fact is her family needs her."

Adducci explained that under immigration laws, if a person has been here for more than five years, even with a green card, and commits more than two crimes of moral turpitude -- basically immoral crimes -- that makes them automatically removable. Such crimes include retail fraud and larceny, but not, for example, writing bad checks or drunken driving. She couldn't explain why.

Adducci also noted that in recent years, federal prosecutors in Michigan have been "vigorously prosecuting" illegal re-entry cases, hoping to deter others from creeping back across the borders. Such prosecutions have tripled in the last two years, she said, noting that too often, people ignore deportation orders.

Take for example the case of Rodrigo Guizar-Vieyra, who according to court records, has been deported to Mexico five times since 1996, but keeps coming back. He has been arrested in Pontiac, charged with illegal re-entry.

"It happens quite frequently," Adducci said of repeat offenders, stressing that all immigration laws are being vigorously enforced. "You're always at risk of being arrested or removed if you are here in violation of the immigration laws."

None of this bodes well with Ivan Nikolov, 22, of Roseville, whose fight to avoid deportation to Russia has raised a public furor and drawn the support of U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat.

Nikolov has been here since he was 11. ICE claims that he was brought here illegally by his parents. The family says the father split years ago, and that Nikolov and his mother started a citizenship process.

That process was stopped, Nikolov said, all because his mother missed a court date. That led to agents raiding their home May 5, his mother being deported and ICE now moving to deport him.

"We weren't hiding. We had Social Security numbers. We had a house," Nikolov said. "It doesn't even make sense. ... I've never broken a law. I grew up in this country. My entire life is here."

Contact TRESA BALDAS: 313-222-4296 or