September 30, 2019
For many immigrants in this country, a criminal conviction or even minor offenses can lead to removal proceedings and deportation. This is largely due to the expanded basis for criminal removal initiated under Clinton-era immigration laws:
In 1996, the Clinton administration signed into law two key pieces of legislation: the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which both served to retroactively tie immigration status to criminalization. Congress expanded what fell under its “aggravated felonies” classification when it came to deportable offenses, and standard deportation protocol could now be circumvented for “fast-track” removal proceedings.
Under the new guidelines, relatively minor offenses became the basis for removal proceedings. Under George W. Bush, the biggest expansion in “criminal removals” were for traffic violations - 43,000 in his last year in office.
The result of the interaction between criminal justice and immigration systems means that the discriminatory aspects of domestic policing become manifest in immigration enforcement - especially for black immigrants. Black immigrants are estimated to be 7.2 percent of the unauthorized immigrant population, but make up 20 percent of criminal removals.
Today, Vox has a fascinating and important article by Shamira Ibrahim on the “prison to deportation” pipeline told in part through the story of Ousman Darboe, a 25 year-old Gambian immigrant, who was brought to the country at age 6. Ousman grew up in a tough neighborhood, and like many of his black and Latinx neighbors, had many run-ins with the police as a youth. Ousman’s story is important to lift up because it is far more typical of the challenges many immigrants face in this country than the “immigrant success” stories that get bandied about and have become the basis of Democratic approaches to policy. Ousman would not qualify for DACA, for example, because of youthful encounters with police and not being college bound. Where is the policy for him? As of now, simply deportation.
Ousman had done time on a juvenile conviction for stealing a purse, after which he enrolled in a re-entry program in the hopes of turning his fortunes around. Then (quoting at length here from the story),
In September 2014, less than six months after Darboe’s release, a neighbor in his parents’ building was walking when she had her gold chains robbed from her neck. Given that he was recently paroled, Darboe was identified as a person of interest by the NYPD. Darboe says on the day of the incident he was at Getting Out and Staying Out (the organization was only able to confirm his regular participation but not his specific whereabouts that day, according to court documents).
When police searched his belongings, they were unable to find any items that tied him to the description given by the neighbor. However, the victim identified him in a police lineup, both recognizing him as a resident in the building and perceiving him to be the assailant: “She thinks that he did it because it was a ‘big black man,’” Adama says, “and [that’s who] Ousman was.”
Darboe was charged with multiple offenses — three counts of robbery plus assault, criminal possession of stolen property, and harassment. He was now considered an adult. At his arraignment, he entered an initial plea of not guilty and was released on bail after 60 days.
But his release was turbulent: He had multiple police interactions for a variety of unrelated charges, such as gun possession and possession of a false check, both of which were dismissed (they were committed by an associate of his, according to court documents). He then landed back in Rikers because the robbery charges were a violation of his parole. While in jail, he was accused of illegally possessing a razor, an offense of which he was acquitted.
Worn down from being in and out of detainment and solitary confinement — and fearful that the NYPD, in its persistence to obtain evidence, would generate a second witness willing to corroborate the alleged robbery story to better their own circumstances — Darboe made an about-face in February 2017 and took a plea deal of one count of felony robbery for time served. According to court documents, Darboe said he took the deal because he was disappointed in himself — not because he had committed the crime, which he maintains he did not, but because of his past. “I had to blame myself for my previous cases, because if I would have never caught [charges in] those previous robberies, I would have never been a target for [the gold chains] robbery.”
While pleading under duress is a common scenario for black men with extended stays in pre-trial detention, doing so has significant implications for immigrants.
Five months later, Darboe was at his parents’ apartment in their new Bronx neighborhood of Kingsbridge when ICE knocked on the door. Even though his recent case dismissals meant he was supposedly no longer under threat of incarceration, ICE officers gained entry to the apartment saying they were police, under the pretense of having a warrant for someone else in the neighborhood, says Gurulé. This tactic is reportedly used by some agents to get immigrants to let them in a residence: ICE officers announce that they’re law enforcement and that they have a “warrant,” even though the warrant is only administrative and not signed by a judge.
Once inside, agents proceed to make arrests after they validate that the person in the home is the same person who may be already flagged on their watchlist as a target, with a particular emphasis on undocumented persons. (ICE has not responded to Vox’s request for comment on its arrest or warrant process, or Darboe specifically, but an ICE spokesman denied to Documented in 2018 that they pose as local law enforcement; however, he said ICE “may use the universally recognized ‘POLICE’ when initially making contact with someone during a field operation.”)
Oursman has been in ICE detention ever since, and could be deported to Gambia any day. Read the full story here.
Also, check out the Black Alliance for Just Immigration for more information on the impact of criminalization and policing on black immigrants.