US: Protect Families in Deportation Cases

(Washington DC) – The ruling by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on August 2, 2010, that US deportation hearings violate legal residents’ rights to family unity sends a clear signal that reforms are needed in US immigration law, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch had filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief in the case Wayne Smith and Hugo Armendariz v. United States.

“People who have lived in the United States legally for years should have fair hearings before their families are torn apart by deportation,” said Alison Parker, US program director at Human Rights Watch. “The Inter-American Commission ruling is another nail in the coffin of the dysfunctional, inefficient, and overly broad immigration laws in the United States.”

The commission’s ruling – called a “report” – was based on the cases of Wayne Smith and Hugo Armendariz, lawful permanent residents of the United States for 25 and 35 years respectively, who were deported from the United States for nonviolent criminal offenses that had occurred many years earlier. A 2008 report by Human Rights Watch, “Forced Apart (by the Numbers),” estimated that more than one million family members have been separated from their loved ones by such deportations.

In the Armendariz case, a US judge had determined that he was subject to mandatory deportation and ordered him deported to Mexico even though he was married to a US citizen, had a child and many other family members who were US citizens, had lived over 90 percent of his life in the United States – since age 2 – and was unable to read or write in his language of origin.

“If the law doesn’t let the judge even take into account a legal resident’s family, their American children’s needs, or their roots in the US, a fair hearing on the issues is impossible,” Parker said. “Protecting human rights at immigration hearings is simple: put all the concerns on the table, and let immigration judges judge.”

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