Deported Too Soon: Report Says Fed Immigration Authorities are Violating New York Law [Updated]

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Report says immigrants are being denied basic rights.

Immigrant detainees are routinely deported from New York State before all legal remedies have been exhausted, according to a report released this week by the New York University School of Law's Immigrant Rights Clinic and immigrant rights advocacy organization Families for Freedom.

The report documents what the authors say is the frequent refusal by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to allow detainees facing deportation to challenge the convictions that triggered removal, as they're entitled to do under New York law. The process is known as "post-conviction relief," and it's designed for situations where a defendant has been denied a fair trial for a variety of reasons.

Nancy Morawetz, a law professor at NYU who supervised the study, said ICE's practices are thwarting an important safety valve within the criminal justice system.

"Post-conviction release doesn't exist because the criminal courts always get it wrong," Morawetz says. "But the criminal justice system is a very large, complex system where things move very fast," and mistakes are sometimes made. That's why it's important, she says, that defendants are able to turn to the legal system when something goes awry. And that legal system can't protect defendants if it's not allowed to run its course.

The report points to the deportation of Javian Lawrence, a 28-year-old legal resident originally from Jamaica, who was targeted for removal as the result of a misdemeanor conviction in 2003. Lawrence, who was 17 at the time of his conviction, pleaded guilty to charges that he'd had sexual contact with his girlfriend, who was under the age of consent.

Lawrence's attorney never told him that the plea -- for a sexual misconduct charge -- could result in his deportation. Although it's classified as a misdemeanor, under a counterintuitive 1996 federal law that vastly expanded the definition of deportable offenses, the charge is considered an "aggravated felony" for the purposes of immigration proceedings.

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