The Highway Patrol officer pulls over a speeder on the freeway. It's a young woman in a Red Camaro. "Do you know how fast you were going?", he questions her. "I don't know, officer", she stammers. "I'm late for a job interview, and I wasn't paying a lot of attention. I'm really sorry."
"Not as sorry as I am" replies the officer, who takes out his pistol, and shoots each of her tires. "If I ever catch you speeding again, I'll shoot you!" Then he arrests her and takes her to jail.
Did this really happen?
Of course not! In our criminal justice system, the punishment is supposed to be proportional to the offense committed. Speeding drivers are fined, not jailed or shot. If they were, the story would be featured in the national news and the officer would probably be prosecuted.
Yet, in the bizarre world of immigration law, people are routinely separated from their U.S. citizen spouses, parents and children for minor offenses, and their stories are seldom, if ever, reported.
Consider a middle-aged woman who I spoke with earlier this week. She has long been married to a green card holder who recently became a U.S. citizen. They have three children together, all of whom are U.S. citizens. She and her husband both work hard at menial jobs. They pay their taxes and have never been on welfare. They have never committed a crime, and do not have so much as a speeding ticket. Yet, her application for a green card was recently denied, and she faces deportation. Why?
Back in the spring of 1997, she left the U.S. for a few days to see her father, a diabetic, who was seriously ill. In order to return to the U.S., she used a friend's green card, and was turned away at the border. The government called this an "expedited removal". At the time, this was a newly-created procedure where the government could deport a person without giving them the opportunity to have an attorney or even a hearing before an Immigration Judge.
A few days later, she crossed the border illegally in order to rejoin her husband and children in the U.S. Because of a law passed in 1996, returning to the U.S. illegally after an expedited removal bars a person from becoming a lawful permanent resident until he/she has lived abroad for a minimum of 10 years. And even then, they must be granted a difficult-to-obtain waiver from the Immigration Service. This is known as the "permanent bar" because such persons may never be able to reunite with their families in the U.S.
Do people subject to the permanent bar really return to their countries for ten years, leaving their spouses and children in the U.S.? The government has collected no data on this. I tend to doubt that they do. I believe they simply remain in the U.S. illegally. But to the extent that I'm wrong, the end result of the permanent bar is the separation of families. No wife for her citizen husband. No mother for her citizen children.
So, Shusterman, that bleeding heart, doesn't think people who violate the immigration laws should be punished?
Pleeeze! Having spent six years (1976-82) as an attorney for the INS including many months working inside of Federal Prisons, I have obtained deportation orders against hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals, many of them convicted felons.
The reason that I am against the permanent bar is because the punishment doesn't fit the "crime". For the same reason that Highway Patrol Officers don't shoot speeders, or even arrest them, separating a woman from her family for ten years to life for illegally crossing the border after an expedited removal is simply insane!
Can I suggest a better punishment? Matter of fact, I can.
Impose hefty fines on such persons. The Immigration Service is literally begging the Federal Government for money. And as all of us taxpayers know, the Federal Government is broke. Fining immigration violators rather than separating them from their families makes a lot of sense, and would provide millions of dollars to help the Immigration Service do its job without asking for a taxpayer bailout.
What do you think?