Some of the saddest cases involve people who are in this country illegally. Many times they appear before me charged with relatively minor offenses, but are then held until the Department of Homeland Security decides whether or not to deport them.
One defendant was brought before me on minor charges, but I was informed by the prosecutor that they could not obtain the correct name and date of birth of the defendant. I had him placed under oath and asked him to tell me his correct name and date of birth. The interpreter had a hint of a smile when he told me the defendant had given a date of birth of April 31, 1963. I had a slight smile as well when I told the defendant he’d be held, without bail, until his identification could be confirmed.
Many of the folks in this situation, however, are here to earn money and send it home to their families. They try to fly under the radar, but a broken taillight, or cruising through a stop sign, or driving after they’ve had too much alcohol to drink will bring them to the attention of law enforcement and begin the journey back to their home – and the conditions that forced them to leave in the first place.
Another case I handled involved a person who had been in Minnesota, illegally, for over 17 years. He supported himself and his family (wife, two children and a stepson) until his home was searched and a trace amount of cocaine and one illegal pill were found. Normally, probation with some jail and treatment would have been the sentence. However, the immigration service deported him to Mexico, while his wife and children remained in Minnesota. Had I had complete discretion on how to handle the case, I think I could have come up with a more compassionate – and more just – outcome to this sad situation.
My great-great grandfather left Ireland in the 1840’s because of the potato famine. Once he left County Cork, he never saw his family there again. True, my great-great grandparents came to this country legally – at least I think they did. But the desperation that drove them to leave Ireland must lead others to leave their home country today to try to make a life in the United States.
A state court judge does not deport people who are in our country illegally. We are required, however, to order that they be held until Homeland Security makes its decision. While it’s a duty I am required to perform, it is a sad one.
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Next week: A Night in Jail