Man deported for immigration violation
The effects of the national struggle over immigration legislation are being felt on Martha's Vineyard, where many illegal aliens have been apprehended by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and deported in the past few months.
Island public safety officials said there has been a noticeable increase in the number of federal detainers issued by ICE for people arrested by Island police and in local custody. Detainers are issued for foreign nationals when they do not appear for an immigration hearing, or fail to follow a judge's deportation order.
ICE spokesperson Paula Grenier said that as ICE continues to enter more information into their criminal database, which is also accessible by local authorities, it has led to a noticeable increase in the number of suspects being detained and transferred, including those on Martha's Vineyard.
Edgartown District Court clerk magistrate Liza Williamson estimated that as many as 25 Island offenders, also wanted by ICE, have been handed over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement through a criminal detainer in the past few months.
One of the most recent examples of this stepped up enforcement was the arrest and subsequent deportation of Alfredo R. Escobar, a native of the Dominican Republic.
Mr. Escobar was in the United States with legal documentation, when he was arrested in 2000 for selling cocaine. He went before a judge in a Boston-based immigration court, who, after the conviction, ordered Mr. Escobar to return to his native country, the Dominican Republic. When Mr. Escobar failed to follow the judge's orders he was labeled an immigration fugitive and a criminal alien.
Mr. Escobar, 43, was arrested on June 2 in Tisbury for driving erratically. While being processed through the court system in Edgartown, a routine criminal background check revealed his drug conviction and judge's order to leave the country, said Ms. Grenier.
When Island officials saw that Mr. Escobar was wanted by the federal agency, the Tisbury charges were dropped and he was immediately handed over to ICE.
His removal was effected and Mr. Escobar returned to his native country on June 28, Ms. Grenier said.
System saturated with
When someone attempts to enter the country illegally and is caught, they are summoned to immigration court. If they fail to follow the judge's orders, or defect from their court hearing, a federal detainer is placed on them, labeling them a fugitive, Ms. Grenier explained.
When suspects are arrested and brought to the Edgartown House of Correction, a routine criminal background check is run. The Law Enforcement Support Center (LESC), a national operation run by the Department of Homeland Security, which provides immigration status and related information to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, uploads records into this system. LESC is currently adding to the database at a rate of 9,000 to 10,000 records a month, Ms. Grenier said.
Within the past six to nine months, Dukes County Sheriff Michael McCormack said many more criminal immigration charges have appeared in the system than in years past, and the increase in suspects picked up on the Island and transferred to ICE through a detainer has been substantial.
There are currently an estimated 500,000 aliens living in the United States in violation of judge's orders, according to ICE statistics. Since the beginning of 2004, ICE has removed more than 400,000 aliens, and of those more than half had criminal records.
Some estimates place nearly 3,000 Brazilian nationals on Martha's Vineyard in the summer months, making up a substantial portion of the labor force. While actual statistics are unknown, it is widely reported that many of them are in this country illegally, but until recently few were penalized.
Legislation at a standstill
The federal government is currently in a deadlock over national immigration legislation. Earlier this year, the senate passed a bill that would give millions of illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship by paying back taxes, learning to speak English and holding a job for six years. It would also greatly strengthen the nation's border security.
But the House, which in 2005 passed a bill that would make it a felony to enter the United States illegally, recently began a series of lengthy hearings that will most likely prevent any legislation from passing this year.
President George Bush, who supports the Senate's proposed bill, has said that he hopes new legislation will more effectively secure the nation's borders, offer a temporary worker program to immigrants, and bring tougher penalties against employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers.
Immigrants of all legal standing are making their voices heard to lawmakers through demonstrations representing both sides of the debate.
On May 1, a small crowd of Island Brazilians joined hundreds of thousands throughout the county in "A Day Without Immigrants," where immigrant workers were urged to walk off jobs in order to show their impact on the American workforce.
At the Vineyard Haven demonstration, workers spoke of the difficulty of obtaining legal documentation to live in the United States, but also expressed their adoration of the Island and the small community atmosphere it has to offer.