Deportation traps in the Old Dominion?
Most of the time illegal immigrants convicted of minor crimes are led to believe that they will be required to pay a fine and surrender a drivers license, if they have one, for 6 months. That isn’t what really happens.
Often the immigrant is not told that a guilty plea or being convicted could have them lumped in with violent criminals and deported. Some crimes do not carry jail time. Or do they? Luis Lopez found out differently with a small marijuana charge.
Luis Bladilir Lopez would have needed a sharp defense lawyer to explain what could happen as the result of pleading guilty to a misdemeanor marijuana charge last year in Prince William County.
But Lopez, then 19, was never appointed a lawyer, according to court records. In the end, the consequences were far more serious than he probably could have imagined.
As soon as he entered a guilty plea, the federal government had strong grounds to deport him — and did so two months later.
Immigration lawyers and advocates say Lopez’s fate has become commonplace. In Virginia, and across the country, illegal immigrants who are convicted of minor, non-violent crimes often find themselves lumped in with violent offenders and deported under highly complex federal immigration procedures even as the Obama administration works to improve immigration enforcement procedures and focus on more serious offenders.
In 2010, many commonwealth’s attorneys across Virginia began automatically waiving jail time for mostly minor, misdemeanor offenses to save money. When prosecutors automatically waive jail time, judges no longer have to provide defendants with lawyers, potentially saving the state millions of dollars.
So it was with Lopez, who entered the country illegally in 2005, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Neither he nor his family could be reached for further comment.
Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert (D) had automatically waived all jail time for misdemeanor marijuana possession and a host of other charges. That made it possible for the General District Court judge in Lopez’s case to negotiate a guilty plea without appointing a lawyer: All Lopez had to do was pay a $186 fine and forfeit his driver’s license for six months.
Immigrants with drug charges, regardless of how minor, are far more at risk of deportation. Civil rights lawyers and advocates have argued that Virginia sets up immigrants for deportation. Prosecutors blame the federal government.
Advocates contend that prosecutors and judges in Virginia are essentially setting deportation traps for illegal immigrants charged with minor crimes by offering plea deals after waiving jail time and declining to appoint defense counsel.
People with strong feelings about illegal immigration will say good, they deserve it. Those who want the serious criminals deported only think that Virginia is pulling a flim-flam and immigrants are the victim.
Factor in those who want to legalize or at least decriminalize marijuana and you have an entire different set of beliefs. I would prefer that all effort be put into getting rid of violent criminals, child abusers and wife beaters–after they serve their sentence. Otherwise they will just hop into the revolving door and come right back to do more crime.
It will be interesting to see what the new immigration legislation will do with this one area of deportation.
As a side note, a Northern Virginia lawyer has made a rather interesting remark about Prince William County. He has accused them of having an ethnic cleansing program.
“Where do they get off trying to get an uncounseled criminal defendant to plead guilty before they get a lawyer?” asked Victor M. Glasberg, an Alexandria civil rights lawyer who raised the issue with the Virginia Supreme Court. “It’s knowingly aimed at the Latino community, and it is part of Prince William’s ethnic cleansing program. [Judges] know the law.”