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#5350: Detained, and fighting deportation (One more try) (fwd)

From: AAA <aadvaa1@yahoo.com>

   Published Sunday, October 22, 2000, in the Miami
Herald -BY ALFONSO CHARDY  achardy@herald.com 

 According to a 1996 law, even longtime legal
residents with strong ties to the U.S. must be
detained and can be deported if they have ever been
convicted of a crime - no matter how long ago.

 Haitian-born Ralph Richardson sits in a North Florida
county jail cell waiting to  be banished from the
country he has lived in for more than 30 years -- a
human symbol of one of the harshest immigration laws
ever enacted. 

Just six years ago, Richardson, a permanent lawful
U.S. resident, was living in Atlanta with his American
wife and three children. He was fresh out of jail,
having served time on several drug-related charges
from the mid-1980s. He started a house and commercial
cleaning and janitorial service. He thought he had
paid his debt to society.  Instead, his troubles were
just beginning. 

Two years after he was released from jail, Congress
passed legislation requiring the detention and
expulsion of foreign nationals found guilty of
aggravated felonies -- no matter how or when those
crimes occurred. And no matter whether they had served
their time. 

Under the terms of that law, Richardson was picked up
by the Immigration and Naturalization Service in
October 1997. He is one of the longest-held detainees
in custody today, and has been fighting his
deportation to Haiti -- a country he left when he was
just 2 years old -- ever since. 

What happens to Richardson, 34, is even more relevant
in the aftermath of a U.S. Supreme Court decision this
month to clarify the detention provisions of the 1996
legislation. A high court opinion could strike down
the mandatory detention requirements and set
Richardson, and thousands like him, free while their
deportation cases are heard. 

``I cannot accept deportation,'' Richardson said in a
recent telephone interview. ``I consider that a life
sentence from my family and from my life. I grew up in
the United States. I've done everything in the United
States. I consider myself an American.  ``Everyone
says I'm crazy and why am I still fighting. But I
consider the United States my home.'' 

 Though his detention ordeal began in October 1997,
the root of his problem began in 1968, the year he
entered the United States with his mother.
Richardson's parents had immigrated from Haiti years
before and settled in Brooklyn, N.Y. Richardson was
born in Haiti while his mother was visiting family

Throughout his early youth in Brooklyn, Richardson
says, he thought he was an American citizen, even
noting so on his marriage license application, his
selective service registration and driver's license. 


The realization that he was not an American citizen
hit Richardson in 1997 when his father died and the
family traveled to Haiti to look at family property.
According to court documents in the case, when
Richardson applied for a U.S. passport, he was told to
produce a birth certificate. His certificate showed he
had been born in Haiti. 

About 5,000 people remain in indefinite detention
because their home countries refuse to take them back.

Instead of getting a U.S. passport, Richardson
obtained a Haitian one. He found his old green card
from childhood and brought it along on the trip. Two
days later, while re-entering the United States with
his wife at Miami International Airport, Richardson
realized he had a problem. 

``We were in the immigration line and the problem
began when I presented an expired green card,''
Richardson said. 

An INS airport inspector asked Richardson whether he
had ever been convicted of a crime. He told the truth
and answered yes. 


 ``The immigration officer flipped on his light and
someone else came and pulled me out of the line. They
asked me more questions and right then and there I was
told by an officer: `You have problems and you'll be
in custody for a long time.' '' 

Richardson was held at MIA for hours and eventually
transported to the Krome Detention Center in west
Miami-Dade County. 

INS immediately began deportation proceedings against
Richardson. He would have been expelled to Haiti long
ago had Richardson decided not to fight his detention.
Prominent immigration attorney Ira Kurzban agreed to
take his case. 

Prior to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant
Responsibility Act of 1996, legal immigrants who
committed a felony were subject to deportation -- but
not mandatory detention. The INS and federal
immigration judges could exercise discretion over
whether to dismiss a deportation order, particularly
if the immigrant had longtime ties to a community or
American family members. 

Under the 1996 mandatory detention law, even legal
residents with longtime ties to the United States can
be detained and ordered deported.


``The list of crimes, which subject an immigrant to
mandatory detention is extensive, and includes
nonviolent crimes, crimes which occurred in the
distant past, and crimes for which no sentence was
imposed,'' according to a statement in the Immigration
Policy Handbook 2000, a publication of the National
Immigration Forum, a Washington-based organization
that advocates softening the 1996 law. 

Since the law was passed, the number of foreign
nationals under INS detention has surged. On any given
day more than 20,000 foreign nationals are in INS
custody awaiting deportation. Most are deported,
although about 5,000 remain in indefinite detention
because their home countries refuse to take them back.
A few, like Richardson, have chosen to fight
deportation -- by all legal means. 


 Such legal struggles can be expensive and complex.
And Richardson's is no exception. In fact, few cases
better illustrate the legal land mines facing tens of
thousands of foreign nationals with a criminal record.

The source of Richardson's legal troubles are the
guilty pleas he entered in three different drug cases:
possession of marijuana and carrying a concealed
weapon in 1985, sale of marijuana in 1986 and
possession of crack cocaine (400 grams) in 1991. 

Given probation in the first case, Richardson served
jail time in the second and the third. He was released
in 1994 when immigration law did not yet mandate
detention of foreign felons. 

Shortly after his arrest at MIA, Richardson's
attorneys filed petitions and appeals in federal and
state courts to head off his deportation and seek his

Richardson's lawyers eventually succeeded in setting
aside his prior convictions, thereby technically
invalidating the premise for his deportation. But
federal authorities refused to release Richardson,
arguing that while the convictions were set aside they
were not dismissed. 

INS officials also argued that Richardson was a menace
to society. 

In November, a federal immigration judge refused to
lift the INS deportation order against Richardson,
ruling that his 1991 conviction outweighed the ``great
suffering'' his removal from the United States would
cause him and his American family. 

Richardson originally asked the Third District Court
of Appeal to set aside his 1985 and 1986 convictions
on the grounds he had been unaware that he was subject
to deportation as a result of his guilty pleas. 

Richardson maintained that had he been given better
legal advice and known of the immigration
consequences, he would not have agreed to plead guilty
and would have instead taken his chances with a jury
trial. He took the guilty pleas, he said, to avoid
lengthy prison terms if he were convicted at trial. 

In a decision handed down July 5, the Third District
Court of Appeal sided with Richardson; those two
convictions were ``vacated.'' 

Separately, Richardson's attorneys appealed to the
Florida Supreme Court, which earlier this year set
aside the 1991 conviction on cocaine charges in
Escambia County and ordered a new trial. 

Technically, that meant Richardson no longer had a
criminal conviction. The deportation order was lifted.
Richardson was transferred from Krome to Escambia
County Jail to await his new trial. Even then, he
couldn't get out of jail because he couldn't afford
the $250,000 bond. 


Richardson's attorneys claim that after that, INS
urged state prosecutors to seek the maximum 15-year
penalty. Worried he'd remain in jail even longer,
Richardson decided last month to change his plea to
guilty. ``I did what I thought was best for me to
prevent doing more time,'' Richardson said Thursday. 

The INS has now reinstated deportation proceedings and
has moved Richardson to the Bay County jail in Panama

``Due to his guilty plea, he got credit for time
served and was immediately remanded to INS custody,''
said Patricia Mancha, an INS spokeswoman in Miami. 

Richardson has appealed the deportation order to the
Board of Immigration Appeals, an administrative panel
of the federal immigration court system. 

``The board may choose to remand the case to an
immigration judge,'' Mancha added. ``However, until
the board renders its decision, there's not a whole
lot that the INS can do with the case.'' 


Kurzban continues to seek his release. He also hopes
to convince a judge to -- at the very least -- order
Richardson's transfer from Panama City to Miami so he
can be closer to his attorneys. 

Kurzban claims his client has been treated unfairly
from the outset because he is black. In April,
Richardson sued Attorney General Janet Reno, INS local
district director Robert Wallis and former INS
Commissioner Doris Meissner, claiming he was detained
because he is black, Haitian ``and had the temerity''
to sue INS for his release. 

``It is a continuation of INS' discriminatory and
punitive treatment toward Richardson because of his
race and his willingness to litigate against the
INS,'' Kurzban said. 

Asked what's next, Richardson said: ``I don't know.
I'm taking it one day at a time.''

The perfect but improving,

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