NIJC releases new white paper proposing the creation of a DHS office to facilitate requests to return to U.S.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 28, 2021) — Deported community members and their families joined immigrant rights advocates to unveil a proposal for the Biden administration to establish a meaningful chance to come home for people who have been unjustly removed from the United States.
The groups discussed the proposal during a virtual briefing marking the release of the National Immigrant Justice Center’s new white paper, A Chance to Come Home: A Roadmap to Bring Home the Unjustly Deported, now available at immigrantjustice.org/ChanceToComeHome.
The paper calls on the Biden administration to use executive action to establish a centralized Department of Homeland Security (DHS) process to efficiently consider requests from individuals seeking to return to the United States to reunite with their loved ones and communities after being unjustly deported. The review process would operate separately from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), with a goal of redressing the injustices of an immigration system which has become overly reliant on punitive enforcement and deportation. The proposal borrows from similar mechanisms already used in the criminal legal system to redress wrongful convictions.
“For decades the U.S. immigration system has deported hundreds of thousands of individuals, permanently separating them from loved ones and destabilizing communities,” said NIJC Associate Director of Policy Nayna Gupta, who authored the white paper. “Despite obvious unjust decisions, the current mechanisms offered under the law to return deported individuals rarely work. They offer a false promise. Building trust between the U.S. government and communities devastated by decades of unjust deportations must begin with a meaningful chance for families and communities to be made whole again.”
Although current law includes mechanisms for deported individuals to return home, in practice these processes and procedures rarely succeed. NIJC recommends four categories of individuals whose requests for review and return should be expedited by the new centralized office:
- Individuals with lawful status who were deported based on involvement in the criminal legal system
- Deported individuals eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
- Individuals who were eligible for lawful status with pending USCIS applications prior to deportation
- Individuals who merit a positive exercise of discretion due to compelling circumstances in their cases, including deported U.S. veterans
Individuals and family members representing some of these groups, whose stories are included in the white paper, spoke during the briefing:
Howard Bailey, a deported father and U.S. Navy veteran who joined the briefing from Jamaica: “Before I was deported to Jamaica — a country I had not seen in nearly 25 years — I was a happily married man, with two American kids, and a home I purchased with my VA loan. I owned my own trucking business with four employees and paid my taxes. In my mind, I was living the American dream. The last time I saw my home was in June — 10 years ago — and since then life feels like a total nightmare. Every day I hope that I will wake up and just be back home in Virginia again. After I was deported, I got a pardon from the governor of Virginia for my marijuana charge but I still couldn’t come home. Many people have tried to help. Even the senator from West Virginia tried to convince ICE. But ICE still won’t budge.”
Jean Montrevil, a father and community activist, whose recorded statement from Haiti was shared during the briefing: “When Trump got into office, everybody got scared. In 2018 they came and deported me to Haiti. I’ve been here for three years now. I miss my family, I miss my kids. I have four U.S citizen kids who I’m really attached to. I talk to them almost every day on the phone, but that’s not enough. When you deport someone, who wins and who loses? I spent almost all my life in America building a life for my kids. When I got deported, yes it hurts me, but it hurt my kids the most.”
Melissa Lawrence, whose husband Kenault Lawrence was deported to Jamaica: “DHS has refused to reopen Kenault’s case, even though they do not contest that he is eligible for cancellation of removal. Kenault wants to be here for his son. He is a very happy person. But the tone of his voice and the sound I get from him, speaking to him—he’s not okay being away from his son.”
Community-based organizations, grassroots campaigns, and advocates across the country have for years called for deported individuals to be reunited with their loved ones. The proposal for a centralized office to review return requests was developed in partnership with several of these groups, including the following advocates who shared these statements in conjunction with the briefing:
Lynn Tramonte, director of the Ohio Immigrant Alliance, said: “Listen to this man’s experience in U.S. detention and deportation. After fleeing genocide in Mauritania, he lived in Ohio for 16 years. He had a home, a life, a community that cared for him. But Trump’s thugs deported him anyway, shackled in chains. Now he lives in exile in another country. He deserves a chance to come home. Return after deportation is part of the reconciliation and healing we need as a nation.”
Alina Das, co-director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the New York University School of Law, said: “If the experience of the last four years has taught us anything, is that the oppression of the system has been carefully institutionalized in the law. This requires us, at minimum, to create mechanisms that tip the scales back in favor of justice, that give people a path to come home.”
Bridgette Gomez, director of the We Are Home Campaign, said: “Every year, the U.S. deports hundreds of thousands of people. Behind each deportation is a story — a story of a separated family, a veteran caught up in the criminal legal system, a child losing his parent, a refugee forced to return to a country he hasn’t seen in decades. The harm caused by these deportations is incalculable. DHS must create a fair and functional process for people who were unjustly deported to apply to come home to the U.S.”