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The Family Reunification Act

The hard-line anti-immigrant group Federation for American Immigration Reform calls it the Criminal Alien Relief Bill. Immigrant advocates call it the Family Reunification Act. Its sponsors in the U.S. Congress call it HR 1452. It all depends upon your perspective -- but one thing is clear. The law has a tough road ahead of it in the post-9/11 climate.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. A compromise version of the bill was approved by the House Judiciary Committee in July.

The law would do the following:

  • Give immigration judges the authority to recommend relief to immigrants who are long-term legal permanent residents if their offenses are relatively minor.
  • Enforce mandatory deportation for any immigrant convicted of a terrorism-related offense or a violent crime such as rape, murder or sexual abuse.
  • Require that the U.S. attorney general or deputy attorney general approve each case personally if a judge recommends relief for a convicted immigrant.
  • Expire in 2005 under a sunset provision.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform is fighting the law with a nationwide lobbying campaign. “We believe discretion should be limited to the attorney general,” said spokesman David Ray. “When the discretion is given to immigration judges, it’s oftentimes too open and too easily abused -- which is why the law was changed in the first place.”

The federation’s principal objection to the law is that it would allow immigrants who have already been deported under the mandatory deportation law to appeal their case to the U.S. attorney general.

“It’s unconscionable and irresponsible for the INS to devote an iota of its resources to revisiting immigrant felon cases while there are over 300,000 people ordered deported who are still walking the streets … and the INS says it doesn’t have the manpower to track them down,” Ray said.

Rob Randhava of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in Washington, agrees that the law does offer a possibility to those who have been unfairly deported -- but these cases could have been avoided had judges been allowed to exercise discretion in their rulings

“If [the federation] was actually concerned about saving precious INS resources, they would be spending a lot more of their time urging the INS to exercise more discretion in these cases,” Randhava said. “The INS wastes massive amounts of money to lock up and then deport people who have already been punished for minor offenses and who no longer pose a threat, because the laws -- and the way the INS enforces them -- leave no room for common sense.”

-- Tracy L. Barnett

National Catholic Reporter, October 11, 2002