Deportation for 'Judgment Error'

Should immigrants who have committed crimes be allowed to stay in this country? The Immigration and Naturalization Service says no. Last year, the INS began implementing the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which imposes tougher sanctions against aliens who violate the law. Each day, the INS detains approximately 1,200 aliens locally for various offenses. But what if the immigrant in question has not only proved that he's loyal to the United States by serving in our armed forces but has already served time for his crime? RACHEL FISCHER spoke with one such immigrant and the INS.


Nigerian native; being held at the INS Service Processing Center in San Pedro while he fights his deportation.

Aliens, including myself, served in the United States military on the belief, given by recruiting officers, that by serving in the military, citizenship would become available if our discharges were honorable.

Yet hundreds of veterans who received honorable discharges are languishing in INS custody. We face deportation without any kind of protection under the Constitution. The crimes that we are being deported for range from minor traffic infractions to long-ago felonies. Careful judicial review, in many cases, would prove that these people pose no threat to the community or to the internal security of the United States government.

We need to be heard. I have been a legal resident for 24 years. In 1994, I was charged with conspiracy to use a fraudulent credit card. I was sentenced to a year in federal prison and released in 1996. I violated my probation by not reporting to my officer when I injured myself. I called, but my officer wouldn't allow me to miss my appointment.

I recuperated and then turned myself in. I got sentenced to 15 months in state prison for violation of my probation. I did eight months total and, upon my release on July 10, the INS picked me up. I'm fighting my deportation and my case is pending.

I was convicted of a crime, but I like this country. In fact, I joined the Navy [serving in San Diego from 1985 to 1987] to pay respect to it. The recruiting officer told me that an honorable discharge would entitle me to the benefits of citizenship; even the INS says that honorable military service is critical in qualifying for U.S. citizenship.

I'm not being given a second chance. My wife and children are American citizens and cannot understand what is going on. My son is already acting out without a father figure in the household. I want to stay here; my country, Nigeria, considers me a traitor, so I'm likely to be detained and tortured if I'm sent back.

I'm not a traitor to society. I have professional skills [in the computer industry] to support my family. I made an error in judgment--but I have paid for it and atoned.

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