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Legal Dominican Immigrant to be Deported for 28-Year-Old Crime

Friday, October 29, 2010

With the United States deporting more immigrants than ever before -- almost 400,000 over the past year -- some of New York's elected officials and immigrant advocates are trying hard to draw attention to cases that, to them, seem blatantly unjust.

Dominican immigrant Eligio Valerio is one of them. He is a taxi driver and soon-to-be grandfather who has been working legally in the United States with a green card for decades. But last week, immigration officers made an early morning visit to his home. They took him into custody and began deportation proceedings because of a 1982 gun conviction. He has told advocates he kept an illegal gun in the Washington Heights bodega he had back then for protection. He did no jail time, just three years probation. But now, almost 30 years later, his name is on a list of criminal aliens to be deported.

Valerio was released on bail Thursday, and at a press conference, he made a brief, and almost tearful, statement thanking the press and local and state elected officials for the attention they have drawn to his case. City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez said, while stabbing his finger angrily into the air, that he is happy this happened to Valerio, "because Valerio is like Rosa Parks." With a heavy, Dominican accent Rodriguez explained, "He's the perfect person to be used as a sample, as a role model of why immigration law is broken and it has to be fixed."

Together, Rodriguez, City Council Member Diana Reyna and State Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat listed everything they believe is wrong with what has happened to Valerio: 

Valerio is being deported for a crime for which he was sentenced only to probation and, since then, he has raised an American family and, they say, has been an upstanding, tax-paying, legal resident of the United States.

When Valerio was first taken into custody, Rodriguez says he was told he would be moved to detention in Texas. Immigrant advocates have long objected to a detention system that moves detainees all over the country with little notice, particularly among New York's immigrant advocate community -- because once a detainee is moved away from New York it is not only much harder to speak with family members, it is more difficult to obtain a lawyer. Immigration detainees are not automatically provided with a lawyer and it is easier to get one in New York than in many other locations. Valerio was able to get a lawyer and make bail, instead of being moved, in part because his daughter works at a law firm and a lawyer there got on the case immediately, according to Council member Rodriguez.

Valerio himself said in Spanish at the press conference that other inmates he met while in detention had too little access to telephones and that reaching family members was like 'reaching for the sky.'

And Valerio is a father and will be a grandfather within weeks, and the Department of Homeland Security is potentially breaking up his family without attention to any of the details of his case. Since the 1996 immigration reforms, anyone who is convicted of a certain class of crimes loses the right to stay in the U.S., almost entirely without regard to his subsequent behavior or to the circumstances of his life. Advocates want more discretion for immigration judges.

Opponents of immigration reform support the deportation of immigrants who have committed crimes, whether or not family members are left behind. They say the Obama administration is doing too little to enforce immigration laws.

Obama administration officials are pushing for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for immigrants here illegally, as well as more discretion in cases involving families. But they have said that, in order to enact that kind of reform, the federal government has to step up enforcement of existing laws. Meanwhile, immigrant advocates say the Department of Homeland Security is deporting the very immigrants President Obama has said he wants to allow to stay here with increasing speed. And they see Eligio Valerio as the perfect example.

One possible remedy for Valerio would be for New York Governor Paterson to pardon his conviction. Earlier this year, Paterson initiated a pardon panel with the aim of pardoning immigrants whose crimes were minor and who have otherwise been upstanding citizens. The New York Immigration Coalition is contacting the state about Valerio's case.

Public officials are also using Valerio's case to warn against what they see as the dangers of the federal Secure Communities program, which New York is signed up for but is not yet using. Secure Communities allows police to submit the fingerprints of anyone they arrest to immigration officials. The Department of Homeland Security says this will allow them to identify and detain immigrants who commit crimes, with the goal of deporting them.

Officials have said the goal of the program is to deport immigrants -- who are here illegally or with green cards -- who commit serious crimes. But advocates say Secure Communities will also result in the deportation of thousands of immigrants with no criminal convictions, or minor ones that are decades old. Current deportation statistics show that despite the government's stated priority of deporting violent criminals or those who threaten the security of Americans, about half of those deported over the past year have no criminal conviction and among those with convictions, many of the crimes do not rise to the level the administration says it is prioritizing.

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Comments [5]

Mel from Washington state

This country was founded on immigrants so i guess that means everybody needs to go some where...Our government let immigrant's come here to work and live many years ago and now the government and other's think they can wave a wand and say poof be gone it's not that simple for you simple minded people. If you have been here over 20 yrs. and a tax payer with a citizen for a spouse and children and even have old crimes that you have paid your time for let them have citizenship..This issue is costing more tax payer dollar's by trying to jail these folks and families that are citizen's needing to get help from the government to live cause now there main provider in the house is gone...This is not hard to figure out but the way the U.S.A. is it makes more sense to spend our tax dollar's while they sit around a table saying what shall we do. They sure figured how much to raise the paper work for filing your app's for citizenship, but they don't know what to do about the millions of human ya human's they let come here years ago..Are u a form of HITLER ideas.I say YES. Have a heart people. We are one nation under GOD.

Nov. 12 2010 02:07 PM
Don from Seattle, WA

I am opposed to both legal and illegal immigration. This country is overpopulated, and 21 million Americans are out of work.

Nov. 01 2010 09:34 PM
Deport Em from USA

Jac, if your husband had been right with the law he would not have this problem. You said he was convicted in 2003, so he broke some law. ANY broken law (on top of illegal entry) gives ICE the option to deport. Every illegal has a sob story but considering there are millions, the effect is waring off and people are not falling for the crocodile tears anymore. Its not up to the President to protect illegals - its up to them to do things in the proper and legal way. All illegals are criminals and Americans don't have much respect for criminals. No sympathy here!

Nov. 01 2010 02:24 PM
Love2Watch from California

Jacqueline you are not alone on this issue. My case is totally different from your husband. My husband filed for a petition for me and voluntary left the United States and go to the US Consular in the Country where I originally came from and with a waiver of 10 year inadmissability and they dinied my waiver. Now its under appeal at the AAO and waiting. But for the meantime, I had been separated from my husband and daughter for over 2 years now. This is the consequence of trying to do the right thing and I fall into the trap. The law that President Clinton signed back in 1994 was very harsh and inhumane.

Nov. 01 2010 01:29 AM
jacqueline from new york

i am going through the same situation with my husband who has being detaind by immigration since August 13, 2010. he was convited in 1993 with provation. he finished his probation and he has being a hard worker person. he lost the case in 2001 and the judge ordered him deportation. Me and him went to a lawyer who didn't introduced himself as a lawyer and he was an andviser. he took the case, but never submited any paperwork to try to re-open my husband's case. The lawyer whois representing him now try to apeal the case to the Department of Apeals in Virginia, but they refused to open my husband's case, because he had a date line of April 2005 to try to re-open the case with the repartment of apeals in virginia. we submitted all the paperwork proving that my husband case was, there were neglience, but they ingnored all the paperwork that the lawyer submitted. My husband has a family who are all citizen and he has being a good citizen who has being working to support his family. Myself and my children are debasted with all the stress that we have being through for the past two months and half. Why nobody is protesting with what immigration laws are doing to many families. Why the president isn't doing anything to stopped deportation and given the opportunity to review all the case before they decide to move people around all over the united states where families don't have assess to them or before thay re deported.

Oct. 31 2010 02:45 PM

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