December 17, 2009

The 1996 Laws Are Retroactive – Dominican Deported in 2009 for 1990 Crime

“Harold” was born in 1965 in Santo Domingo. He does not remember much about the neighborhood he grew up in, as he left the island when he was eight years old. In 1973, Harold moved with his family to Washington Heights, as a legal permanent resident of the United States. Harold finished high school at George Washington High School in that same neighborhood.

Harold tried college out for a while, but decided to try his lot in the labor force. He worked in grocery stores and other odd jobs until he landed a stable job in a mailing company. Harold worked there for six years until the company closed down and the entire staff was laid off.

In 1990, Harold found himself unemployed, and he had just had a baby girl with a Puerto Rican woman. She also worked at the mailing company, so both were out of work. There were plenty of opportunities for Harold to sell drugs in Washington Heights, and he began to sell drugs to support his family. Not too long after he started, Harold was caught and charged with criminal sale of $5 worth of crack cocaine. He was sentenced to three years probation, and decided that the criminal lifestyle was not for him.

Harold never got into trouble with the police again; went back to working in the formal labor market. He worked at Starbucks and at a construction company and became a handy-man. Things were going well for Harold; he learned how to repair all sorts of home appliances and made a living repairing things. He split up with the mother of his two children, but they kept in contact. He met another woman, and they bought a house together.

In 2007, three years after Harold and his wife bought a house, he began to have problems with his children’s mother over child support. One of his daughters was too old to receive child support, but the other was 15, and thus was eligible for another two years. Harold went to court several times to explain his side of the story. Each time, he was given an extension and another court date. However, Harold made a mistake with one of his court dates and forgot to show up. The detective called him to remind him, and Harold left work to go to court. He arrived late, and tried to explain his lateness.

The judge, however, thought Harold was trying to avoid his court date, and ordered Harold sentenced to six months in jail for failure to pay child support. Harold served his time. However, instead of being released, he was told he had an immigration hold. Harold had to go to immigration court with regard to his 1990 conviction. Although his case had been closed eighteen years before, and, at the time, there were no immigration consequences to his guilty plea, Harold faced deportation.

Harold got a lawyer from inside the detention facility in Louisiana. She advised him to plead guilty to the charge that the 1990 sale was an aggravated felony, but Harold disagreed. He thought he could win his case. Harold spent eleven months inside an immigration detention facility in Louisiana, fighting his case, sending appeal after appeal. He told me he spent over $300 in stamps. Convinced he eventually would win, he never signed his deportation orders.

That did not stop ICE from deporting him. In October 2009, Harold was deported to the Dominican Republic, the country he left when he was eight years old. He had not been back since he left the DR as a child.

The only people he knew here were his brother, who also had been deported, and his sister, who lives in the DR for part of the year.

Harold finds it hard to adjust to life in the DR. He is used to the laws, customs, and people of New York City. He expressed awe at the fact that here, in the DR, you can drink beer in the park.

Harold went to get a national ID card in Santo Domingo, so that he can begin to look for a job. However, when he got to the office, they told him his birth certificate was false. Now, he has to go to the local office where he was born to get a new one. I asked Harold how he felt when they told him his birth certificate was fake. He said he was scared that he would get in trouble for possession of false documents. But, he didn’t. They just told him to get an authentic one.

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