CAIR Coalition Response to Washington Post Editorial

Aug 26, 2019

The Washington Post’s recent editorial published on August 20, 2019, is focussed on the growing number of local communities that are providing public funding for immigrant defense programs. The general premise of this editorial betrays a lack of understanding as to how the detention and deportation system functions in reality and ignores the racial disparity inherent in the U.S. criminal justice system that has led to the over criminalization and conviction of people of color.  At CAIR Coalition, which serves the over 2,000 immigrant adults and children currently detained at any given time in Maryland and Virginia, we have a front row seat to the devastation caused by immigration policies that doubly punish non-U.S. citizens who have had an encounter with the criminal justice system.  For that reason, we strongly opposed the “good immigrant” vs. “bad immigrant” narrative woven through the Post’s editorial.

For us, the starting place is whether someone is potentially eligible for a defense to immigration deportation.  If they are, then they should have a meaningful opportunity to argue their case in immigration court. As the editorial correctly points out, “meaningful” correlates with having legal representation.  Without an attorney, the vast majority of immigrants will lose their cases, regardless of the merits.  Many of the immigrants CAIR Coalition represents are long-term residents of the United States, with U.S. citizen spouses and children.  Many are their family’s primary breadwinners.  If they are deported, their families suffer grave economic as well as psychological harm. If some of these immigrants have convictions yet are eligible to pursue a defense against their immigration deportation according to our laws, why are they less deserving than others of representation?

Many of the immigrants we see in deportation proceedings are there because of criminal convictions that are years, and in some cases decades old. Some have very minor offenses that the immigration system has attached the severe penalty of automatic deportation regardless of how long ago the conviction occurred or whether it was the only mistake in a person’s otherwise blemish free record.  These immigrants may have long since served their sentences and moved on with their lives, but the immigration system does not allow them to do so. The editorial by the Post ignores these factors.

The Post editorial board also ignores the cruel reality that in our criminal justice system African Americans are more likely than whites to be arrested, convicted, and to serve lengthy prison sentences. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics from 2016, African-American adults are 5.9 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites and Hispanics are 3.1 times as likely. By denying representation to people of color who have been caught up in the criminal justice system and, who also happen to be immigrants, our communities would be furthering this racial disparity not addressing it. Moreover, while the Post editorial posits that it is a poor use of taxpayer dollars to fund immigration defense for those who have committed crimes, they ignore the fact that the federal government is now spending millions of taxpayer dollars to deport individuals who pose no danger to society.

CAIR Coalition has and continues to represent hundreds of adults and children every year, some with convictions and some with none. Each of our clients, regardless of their criminal history, are deserving of representation. This includes individuals like Aliou* who has been sitting in immigration detention for the last two years fighting his removal based on a single felony for possession of a controlled substance. Aliou is the devoted father of three U.S citizen children and the beloved husband of a U.S. citizen. According to the Post editorial, he is not deserving of representation even though he faces permanent exile to a country he left as a child, and even though his family will be robbed of their beloved father and husband.

How does deporting Aliou* make the U.S. a safer, better country?  How does denying representation to Aliou help his community? If he is deported, his community will lose labor and his tax contributions. If he is deported, the public schools that his children attend, and his wife will have to contend with the academic and psychological consequences that his deportation will have on his three African American kids, forever traumatized by their father’s indefinite removal from their lives. What purpose is served by tearing apart this family? These are the questions we should be asking rather than criticizing the efforts of local jurisdictions for doing everything they can to protect their immigrant communities in the face of relentless attacks.

*Use of a pseudonym to preserve privacy