As the controversial debate over immigration reform intensifies in the legislature, Cuban Immigration rights activists in South Florida say they have grown distressed over a separate bill filed by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX). Smith is the powerful chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and draftsman of laws that strengthened immigration enforcement in 1996.
The bill affects Cubans with deportation orders and enables authorities to re-detain those of them who have been previously convicted of crimes, for an indeterminate period of time.
The activists are carefully observing the bill’s progress through the House although there seems to be no immediate danger of the bill becoming law.
The Immigration rights advocates maintain that the bill proposed by Smith would fundamentally reestablish the capability of immigration authorities to indefinitely hold previously convicted foreign nationals up until the time they can be deported.
The U.S. Immigration Service lost that ability in 2001, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that foreign nationals, who cannot be deported, should not be held in detention longer than a period of six months. The Supreme Court upheld that ruling again in 2005.
Although the Smith bill does not specifically mention Cubans, the activists fear that Cuban immigrants are probable to be amongst the utmost affected by the passage of the bill due to the fact that they compose one of the largest groups of foreign nationals who may not be deported, in some cases due to Florida’s wet foot, dry foot policy.
However, a staffer that works under Smith in the House Judiciary Committee was quoted as saying that the bill does not target all “non-deportable” Cubans but rather aims at “dangerous non-deportable criminal immigrants,” whether they are Cuban nationals or their origin is from any other foreign locale. He went on to say that “prolonged” detention would be reserved for rapists, child molesters, murderers and those that have committed and been convicted of aggravated felonies, the latter, under immigration law include various drug offenses as well as other non-specified crimes.
In further comment the staffer implied that the bill would not be retroactive although many immigrant rights activists were concerned that the language suggested in the bill would permit immigration officials to detain foreign nationals, including Cubans even if their deportation directives were dispensed prior to the bill being legislated.
In February of this year the US Supreme Court decided the case of Chaidez v. United States holding that Padilla v Kentucky decided in 2010 was not retroactive; thereby depriving non-citizens of the protections afforded those defendants who pled guilty without being properly counseled about the deportation consequences of their guilty pleas in the past. *See footnote
The Padilla post-conviction litigation generated a lot of commentary across the nation. The principal concern in those cases is whether defendants who were convicted prior to the Padilla case’s finality could benefit from the results of the Padilla ruling. Ultimately, the question asks if Padilla relates retroactively. Whether this decision will have any bearing on the newly introduced Smith bill has yet to be determined.
In a statement issued by Susana Barciela, the policy director for the Miami-based Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center commented “This bill is so sweeping that it would result in thousands of harmless immigrants being jailed for years, among them, asylum seekers and torture survivors.”
Ira Kurzban, a Miami immigration lawyer said the Smith bill is an “attempt to reverse” prior Supreme Court rulings. Kurzban is considered to be a national authority on immigration law.
According to a report that will be released this month, the majority of foreign nationals being held for deportation by the debated immigration enforcement program termed “Secure Communities” in Dade County, Florida were not criminals who posed a danger to the community.
The 57 page report, “False Promises: The Failure of Secure Communities in Miami-Dade County,” concluded that their findings are inconsistent with the detailed intentions of the 2008 federally launched program.
These objectives are the detainment and deportation of sentenced and convicted foreign nationals who categorize a sustainable threat to general public safety and those who repeat violations of existing immigration laws, as displayed in example by immigrants who have returned to the United States after their deportation only to commit and be convicted of further crimes.
“Contrary to these policy goals, we found that 61 percent of individuals ordered for removal from Miami-Dade County are either low-level offenders or not guilty of the crime for which they were arrested,” according to the “False Promises” report.
The Research Institute on Social & Economic Policy at Florida International University’s Center for Labor Research & Studies and the staff of a Miami immigrant-rights organization, Americans for Immigrant Justice, jointly organized and prepared the report.
*Further subject matter dealing with this topic can be found on the In the Media section of this Website referencing the case of State v. Owran Green.
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