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No justice for immigrants.

The 1996 immigration law, which went into effect on April 1, 1997, is beginning to take a terrible toll. Refugees fleeing persecution and torture in their home countries can be summarily turned away from U.S. airports by INS agents, who no longer have to grant them a proper hearing. In New York and other cities, restaurants and factories that depend on immigrant labor have had to close their doors because a mass exodus has emptied their kitchens and assembly lines. Immigrants waiting for green cards risk deportation if they don't go straight home until their papers arrive.

In a catch-22, a provision of the new law states that once they leave the country, immigrants who waited for more than six months while the INS processed their green-card applications can be banned from returning for three years. And if they remained in this country for a year without documents, they might not be able to return to the United States for ten years--even if they filed for a visa on their first day here.

Worse, legal immigrants who leave the country and then return--even after a brief vacation--may be subject to harassment and imprisonment without due process if they have any criminal record. This is true for the most minor infractions. Theft of cable-television service, for example, can be treated as an "aggravated felony" under the new immigration law, and the INS may detain legal immigrants and begin deportation proceedings against them for it.

Take the case of Jesus Collado-Munoz. Collado, who was born in the Dominican Republic, has lived in the United States for more than twenty-five years. He is a legal permanent resident He married and raised his family here. His wife and daughters are all U.S. citizens. Because of the "aggravated-felony" provision in the new immigration law, Collado now sits in a maximum-security prison in Pennsylvania, under threat of deportation, because of a twenty-two-year-old misdemeanor conviction.

Last March, Collado visited the Dominican Republic for two weeks. On his way home, INS agents detained him. Under questioning, Collado admitted that he'd had a brush with the law when he was nineteen years old. The mother of his then-fifteen-year-old girlfriend brought statutory sexual-assault charges against him for having consensual sex with her daughter. The two teenagers were dragged into court. Collado pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was convicted.

The INS decided to treat Collado's twenty-two-year-old conviction as an aggravated felony, and took him from the airport to prison. There he remains, held without bond for the last six months, as the INS pursues deportation proceedings against him. An immigration judge ordered that Collado be released, and that the proceedings against him be dropped, but the INS appealed the decision to the Immigration Appeals Board in Washington. Collado remains a captive while the proceedings against him drag on.

The federal courts can do nothing about this injustice. With the new immigration law, Congress stripped federal judges of their power to review cases like Collado's and to grant waivers of deportation.

"The situation of Jesus Collado is the most compelling example of everything that's wrong with the immigration law," says Lucas Guttentag of the ACLU Immigrant Rights Project. "The Supreme Court has said again and again that due process applies to everyone."

Guttentag appears along with Collado and his family in a new film called With Liberty and Justice for All, directed by Barbara Kopple. Kopple's camera follows Collado's wife and daughters on a prison visit, where father and family tearfully press their hands against a Plexiglas wall that separates them. The Collados are alternately outraged and mystified by what has happened to them.

"I can't do anything without him," says Collado's wife, Judith, who is now raising three children by herself and working seven days a week at the family restaurant. "We've always worked, we pay our taxes, and my husband hasn't committed any crime. Why do they treat him like some murderer?"

Even a letter from the mother of Collado's old high-school girlfriend, pleading for his release and explaining that "Jesus is not a criminal nor a violent or immoral person," has not made a dent on the INS.

The Alliance for Justice in Washington, D.C., an association of national advocacy groups, held screenings of With Liberty and Justice for All at law schools around the nation on October 6 to draw attention to the arbitrary and unjust provisions of the new immigration law.

"We're hoping to inspire the bar and community groups to provide legal and other services to immigrants," says Nan Aron, the group's president.

Kopple's film also features Paul Ahua, a refugee from the Ivory Coast in Africa. Thanks to his lawyer, Michele Meyer-Shipp, he managed to win temporary asylum, after he was beaten and tortured for speaking out against female genital mutilation in his home country.

Ahua also got help from some lawyers at the Committee for Human Rights, who helped him persuade skeptical INS agents that the scars on his body were inflicted by his torturers, and that he had a credible fear of persecution in his home country.

Immigration lawyers and advocates are struggling against a law that grants the INS enormous power to trample on immigrants' rights. The new law is not only unjust to immigrants, it also threatens the principle that the federal courts ought to act as a check on overzealous law enforcement.

Fortunately, some liberal members of Congress, including Representative Luis Gutierrez, Democrat of Illinois, and Representative Richard Gephardt, Democrat of Missouri, as well as Senator Paul Wellstone, Democrat of Minnesota, are fighting for changes in the immigration law.

Gephardt, Gutierrez, and other House Democrats won a temporary extension, until October 23, of the program that allows immigrants seeking green cards to stay in the country. They are optimistic that they can get Congress to extend the program permanently, in part because of pressure from employers who are taking a hit as their workers face banishment.

Wellstone has drafted a bill, which has yet to be introduced, that would repeal the aggravated-felony clause in the new law.

Many aspects of the new immigration law are grossly unfair, and violate the most basic tenets of the Constitution. The fight for immigrants' rights has never been more urgent.

Clinton's Land Mines

The international treaty that would ban land mines could bring to a halt the 26,000 deaths and maimings that result yearly from anti-personnel mine explosions worldwide. The United States committed an immoral act in refusing to sign it.

Clinton managed to tell a rather glaring fib when he said he planned to "eliminate all anti-personnel land mines from America's arsenal." He simply is reclassifying what a land mine is.

"There's just one problem with Bill Clinton's landmine ban," says an International Campaign statement. "It doesn't ban land mines."

Dana Priest of The Washington Post picked up on this sleight of hand. "When is an anti-personnel land mine--a fist-sized object designed to blow up a human being--no longer an anti-personnel land mine?" Priest writes. "When the President of the United States says so."

According to Priest, the U.S. government and the defense industry are busy renaming what have in the past been known as "mixed systems"--anti-tank land mines that are assembled together with anti-personnel mines.

These mines "are not being banned under the President's directive because they are not anti-personnel land mines," Robert Bell, Clinton's senior policy director for defense policy and arms control, told reporters after they raised questions about Clinton's speech. They have new names, said Bell: "anti-handling devices," "little kinds of explosive devices," or "munitions."

"We want to get the word out about Clinton's lie," says Jill Greenberg, assistant coordinator of the U.S. Campaign to Ban Land Mines.

The Campaign may soon be coming to a town near you.

Beginning on October 20 in San Francisco, the Campaign will travel across the country. Along the way, it will visit the corporations that manufacture land mines.

In early November, the group will visit two of the biggest land-mine manufacturers in the country, holding a vigil at Alliant Techsystems in Hopkins, Minnesota, and a teach-in at Accudyne Operations in Janesville, Wisconsin (see "Meet the People Who Make Land Mines,").

The activists believe that continued public pressure could still persuade Clinton to sign the international ban.

"The reason Bill Clinton went to Oslo is because of all the pressure we put on him over the past two months," says Greenberg. "We want to continue to push the U.S. to sign this treaty. And the U.S. will sign it--maybe not in December, but it will sign it."

The group will reach Ottawa on December 1 for the signing--which will happen with or without the United States.

For information, send an e-mail to: Or telephone the U.S. Campaign to Ban Land Mines at: (202) 483-9222.

Blow Out the Candles

The CIA had its fiftieth birthday party recently. Didn't you get your invitation? Three thousand employees showed up to hear President Clinton say the CIA "stood on the front lines of democracy's struggle" during the Cold War.

The front lines of democracy?

The CIA has strewn more than a million corpses around the globe--from Guatemala in 1954, to the Congo in 1961, to Indonesia in 1965, to Laos and Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s, to El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980s, to Haiti in the 1990s, and dozens of other places in between. These casualties were not for the cause of democracy, but for the cause of U.S. domination.

But the President of the United States doesn't dare mention such grisly facts.

The day after Clinton addressed the secret troops, the CIA held another party, this time for 4,000 former employees. George Bush, himself a proud alum, stirred up the faithful with a little old-fashioned name-calling.

"To those who say we no longer need CIA, I say you are nuts," Bush told the crowd. "To those who want to dismantle CIA or put it under some other department . . . you are nuts, too."

Welcome to the nut house.
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Title Annotation:abuses of 1996 immigration law
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Column
Date:Nov 1, 1997
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