Deportation Without Consideration

February 25, 2010

By almost any measure, Qing Hong Wu is an American.  He has lived in the US since the age of five, completed all of his schooling here and obtained a university degree, through hard work rose in prominence to the position of Vice-President of a national IT company, and he is engaged to be married.  He also takes care of his mother, an elderly naturalized US citizen, but when Mr. Wu applied for US citizenship at the age of 29, he was detained and placed in deportation. 

The reason?  His juvenile record.  Mr. Wu made some mistakes in his youth, but he listened to his juvenile sentencing judge, now-retired Judge Corriero of New York, who told him that he was young and could turn his life around, and he did.  Mr. Wu not only served time for his childhood crimes, but also worked hard to secure a successful education and career.  As US law now stands, however, criminal deportation proceedings will ignore entirely the myriad ways that Mr. Wu has demonstrated rehabilitation, including his positive contribution to his community and employer, and instead the proceedings will focus entirely on his juvenile bad behavior. 

Recognizing the immense strides taken by Mr. Wu in the past fifteen years, Judge Corriero supports his fight to remain in the US and is seeking a governor’s pardon for Wu’s juvenile record, the only way to avoid his mandatory deportation.   Mr. Wu’s employer has submitted a letter of support, and the Organization of Chinese Americans is seeking to have Mr. Wu’s 1996 guilty plea vacated because his criminal lawyer failed to explain to the teenager that by pleading to criminal conduct, he was also agreeing to his mandatory deportation.

The mandatory deportation of individuals from the United States solely because of past criminal conduct, regardless of the severity, the passage of time, successful rehabilitation, or family ties, is a human rights concern that Amnesty International is working to address. 

All migrants subject to deportation have human rights.  They are entitled to procedural safeguards including the ability to challenge individually the decision to deport, access to competent interpretation services and legal counsel, and access to a review, ideally a judicial review, of a negative decision.  While deportation of individuals who have been convicted of serious criminal offenses in their country of residence is permissible under international law, criminal deportation of migrants raises human rights concerns when, for example:

  • Deportation places a person at risk of torture or other serious human rights violations,
    Results in family separation,
  • A permanent resident becomes subject to criminal deportation as an adult when s/he has no meaningful links to the country of origin, having arrived as a child, and
  • When the person is detained by immigration authorities pending deportation but cannot be deported, and so is held in prolonged or indefinite detention. 

Everyone subject to deportation proceedings has the right to due process (Article 13 of the ICCPR). 

Despite clear prohibitions in international law and standards, US law permits the deportation of individuals without any consideration whatsoever of their long-time residence, family ties, or successful rehabilitation.  In many instances, people are mandatorily deported due to minor, non-violent criminal convictions that occurred decades earlier.   Before 1996, immigration judges had the authority to consider a permanent resident’s entire circumstances, including family ties, longstanding residence, work history and successful rehabilitation.  The current situation, according to Judge Corriero, “really cries out for some kind of justice.”   Until US law restores to immigration judges the authority to consider a person’s individual circumstances, families will continue to be torn apart and justice will not be served.