Change in Law Creates `Criminal Aliens' Legal U.S. Residents with Records Face Deportation without Waiver
Times, Los Angeles, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Saeid Aframian was once a prosperous jewelry salesman and lived the fashionable Bel Air section of Los Angeles.
Today he shuffles about in plastic slippers and a government-issue red jumpsuit.
Aframian, one of thousands of Persian Jews who fled to the United States after the Islamic revolution in Iran, faces deportation to a homeland where human rights advocates say religious minorities continue to be persecuted. His undoing: a conviction for credit-card fraud and a two-year prison stint in California a decade ago for receiving stolen property - two watches and a gold broach. New immigration laws passed by Congress last year leave Aframian and many other longtime legal residents with criminal histories newly categorized as deportable "aggravated felons." The catch-all definition now includes everyone from murderers and drug traffickers to shoplifters. For these offenders, Congress eliminated even the possibility of a so-called waiver of deportation. The last-chance opportunity was heretofore available to all but the most flagrant criminals who could demonstrate compelling "equities" - such as proof of reform, lack of ties to their native lands and likely extreme hardship to U.S. citizen dependents. According to estimates by immigration attorneys, the law could affect thousands of noncitizen immigrants who have committed crimes but have been residing in the United States legally for many years. Now irrelevant in the gaze of the law is Aframian's avowed rehabilitation, his 17 years in the United States, his alienation from his tumultuous homeland and his financial support of his wife, a U.S. citizen, and two young children, both born in the United States. Under the new law, it makes no difference if the offenses triggering deportation for those defined as aggravated felons occurred last week or decades ago, or whether the person has led an exemplary life since his offense. Even some misdemeanor offenses, if they draw maximum one-year sentences, can now be deemed aggravated felonies under federal immigration law. Two laws enacted last year severely restrict federal court review of deportation orders, while mandating detention without bond for deportees with criminal records - a provision that Attorney General Janet Reno has put off for a year, citing a lack of space in overflowing Immigration and Naturalization Service detention centers. Despite the use of legislation targeting terrorists, officials concede that the vast majority of those affected are common criminals. In the case of Aframian, his lawyer, David Ross of Los Angeles, notes that his client is being forced back to a nation that the State Department considers an abettor of terrorism. That some deportees are culturally and even linguistically alienated from their birthplaces is also irrelevant, legally. "I've always thought of myself as an American," said Eremasi Ernesta Attah, who moved to the United States 20 years ago at the age of 4 and now faces deportation back to her native Nigeria. "I would be an outcast (there)," she said. A mother of two U.S.-born daughters, ages 6 and 2, Attah is an admitted thief, having twice been convicted of shoplifting from the neighborhood Kmart and Alpha Beta market, most recently in 1995. Her take included a hot plate, cosmetics and baby clothes. Attah served three months in jail for the shoplifting convictions, but the Immigration and Naturalization Service calls her an aggravated felon and is moving to deport her - without the chance for a waiver. To the congressional majority, those complaining now are simply "criminal aliens" who for too long have enlisted the aid of attorneys skilled at identifying legal loopholes to aid lawbreakers in averting deportation. …