Report criticizes increased deportation of legal immigrant parents

Authorities have deported the legal immigrant parents of more than 88,000 U.S. citizen children in the last decade, according to a report released Wednesday.

The report, published by the UC Berkeley and UC Davis law schools, found that the majority of parents were deported for what it described as “minor criminal convictions” now classified as aggravated felonies, including nonviolent drug offenses, simple assaults and drunk driving. One parent was deported after selling $5 worth of drugs.

The report also found that the deported parents had lived in the country for an average of 10 years and more than half of them had at least one child at home. The deportations caused increased depression, sleeplessness and behavioral problems, plummeting grades and a greater urge to drop out of school, according to the study’s interviews with family members.

The deportations began increasing after Congress made several controversial revisions to immigration laws in 1996. The revisions broadened the types of deportable offenses considered “aggravated felonies,” required mandatory deportation for those convicted of such crimes, and severely limited a judge’s ability to consider the effects of deportation on children.

“It is a travesty that this is happening without any judicial discretion,” said Aarti Kohli, director of immigration policy for Berkeley Law School’s Warren Institute. “We’re not saying you can’t deport people. We’re saying there should be a fair judicial process that takes into account the impact on their children.”

The report detailed one case of a California man who fled Cambodia’s murderous Khmer Rouge regime in the mid-1970s. He resettled in the United States in 1981, graduated from high school, served in the U.S. Army and found work as a mechanic. He married and had five children here.

But he was convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense in 2002. The offense was classified as a felony because he served a 365-day sentence. Now he has been ordered deported.

The report recommends that judges regain discretionary authority in cases involving legal permanent residents and their citizen children. It also urges a return to the pre-1996 definitions of “aggravated felonies” and the collection of data on affected children.