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Florida undocumented immigrants can be deported for minor crimes

Many undocumented immigrants in Florida live in fear that a brush with the law may lead to deportation. Unfortunately, their fear is justified. For those with prior convictions, even a minor offense like a traffic violation can lead to incarceration in a detention center and the initiation of deportation proceedings.

A recent news story told of a 31-year-old undocumented immigrant, a mother of three, who was detained in a traffic stop in Arkansas. The officer who pulled her over found she had an outstanding citation for failure to yield. More than a decade ago, as a juvenile, she was convicted of writing bad checks and served a few months in boot camp. She is now imprisoned in a Louisiana detention facility. She expects to be deported to El Salvador, a country she fled when she was five years old. She describes herself as totally Americanized. She doesn't know a single person in El Salvador and has limited knowledge of the language.

President-elect Donald Trump has promised to deport undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes, falsely claiming there are two or three million people in this category. In fact, immigrants are being deported as criminal aliens even for very minor offenses -- and often when they have committed no crime at all.

An analysis of detainers -- requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to local law enforcement to hold immigrants for possible deportation -- reveals that noncitizens with serious criminal records are very rare. Half of the almost 100,000 immigrants who were the subject of detainers for possible criminal deportation in fiscal year 2015 had no record of criminal convictions. Of those who had convictions, the largest number -- 6.7 percent -- were for drunk driving. Four percent had convictions for assault, 2.1 percent for drug trafficking, 1.8 percent for burglary, 1.7 percent for selling marijuana, and 1.6 percent for traffic offenses. Other offenses comprised even smaller percentages.

U.S. immigration law can be very unforgiving, especially to undocumented immigrants. Immigrants without legal status can fight deportation if they understand their rights and how to present evidence in their defense.

Source: Florida Courier, "Undocumented immigrants face deportation for minor crimes," Teresa Wiltz, Dec. 29, 2016

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