Monday, July 09, 2001

Man fears deportation for domestic violence




By Michael Culp
Gannett Columbus Bureau

        KENT, Ohio — Ashraf Al-Jailani's family could be torn apart any day. Each time mail arrives at his northeast Ohio apartment, he and wife Michele fear they will receive word of his deportation to Yemen and he might never again see his wife and three young children on U.S. soil.

        It's all because of a domes tic violence charge his American-born wife wanted authorities to drop.

        The immigrant's plight, which sparked national attention, led Gov. Bob Taft to pardon him in January. But the pardon might not be enough.

        Some immigration reforms adopted in 1996 are so severe that pardons aren't enough to avoid deportation for certain crimes, including domestic violence and minor drug offenses, said Nancy Morawetz, co-director of the Immigrants Rights Clinic at New York University.

        “The fact that there could be people pardoned and that they wouldn't be eligible for any kind of mitigation of the immigration law just doesn't make any sense,” Ms. Morawetz said.

        Meanwhile, a mentally retarded Ohio woman convicted of killing her baby was spared deportation based on Mr. Taft's pardon. Christine Bentley was to be deported to Germany, where she hadn't lived since age 3.

        “You can be pardoned for some very serious offenses and deportation is waived as a result,” said Mr. Al-Jailani's lawyer, Farhad Sethna. “And there are other minor offenses in which a pardon has no effect whatsoever.

        Even some of the lawmak ers who crafted the 1996 reforms — which critics say was hastily and sloppily written — considered a number of the deportations unfair. They blame immigration officials for failing to use discretion in the cases.

        Immigration court judges and others in the system have little choice but to enforce current rules, said Rick Kenney, spokesman for the Executive Office for Immigration Review, an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice.

        A recent Supreme Court decision blunts some of the harshness of the immigration rules by allowing aliens convicted of crimes before 1996 to seek waivers under older, more relaxed laws.

        The ruling, though, doesn't appear to help Mr. Al-Jailani.

A heated argument
               Mr. Al-Jailani, 37, left Yemen in 1995 so he could marry his wife. The two met in Japan, where he was working on research and she was learning Japanese as a Kent State University student.

        Michele, 31, remains dumbfounded that her husband's deportation might result from a heated argument more than three years ago.

        She had picked out a treadmill that was more expensive than the one her husband wanted, and the two argued in their car in the mall lot.

        “The kids were crying in the backseat.” she said. “I turned around to tell the kids to be quiet, and as I turned back, he reached for something on the dash and knocked my glasses off.”

        She stormed into the mall and found a security guard who also happened to be an off-duty police officer. She wanted a place to go until cooler heads could prevail.

        She did not press domestic violence charges against her husband. However, the officer, under a law protecting battered women, had to pursue the case.

        When Mr. Al-Jailani went into the mall to find his wife and buy the treadmill, the officer arrested him on a domestic violence charge.

What's deportation?
               In January 1999, Mr. Al-Jailani pleaded no contest to domestic violence, on advice from a legal intern representing him on behalf of the Akron public defender's office.

        The intern, Mr. Al-Jailani said, told him it was “one in a million” he would be deported. The public defender's office contends the intern wanted him to go to trial.

        Mr. Al-Jailani was confused when Akron Municipal Judge Carla Moore explained the plea would mean his automatic deportation.

        “Ashraf said to me, "What does deported mean?'” Michele said.

        Judge Moore gave him a 90-day suspended jail sentence and required him to undergo counseling.

        Within weeks, Mr. Al-Jailani got a letter from the Immigration and Naturalization Service stating he would be deported.

        In September 1999, an immigration court judge ordered his deportation. The judge, under immigration law, only could consider whether he was an alien convicted of a deportable crime.

        Mr. Al-Jailani tried to withdraw his no contest plea so he could stave off deportation, but Judge Moore denied several attempts.

"A very sad life'
               The daughter of Polish parents, Christine Bentley, 52, was born in a German work camp and came to America with her family.

        Ms. Bentley, diagnosed as mentally retarded and mentally ill, suffered throughout her life from emotional and physical abuse.

        In 1984, she was convicted of murdering her 2-year-old daughter, who was found dead in a residence outside Youngstown.

        Unable to understand her rights, she initially confessed to police. She later maintained that her daughter died from a seizure.

        Ms. Bentley served about 14 years in prison before being released to a halfway house run by Goodwill Industries of Greater Cleveland Inc.

        “That was a very sad case and a very sad life,” said Mr. Taft's chief legal counsel, William Klatt. “The record reflected that she had been taken advantage of and abused her whole life.”

        After her release, she asked immigration officials for her birth certificate so she could obtain a state identification card.

        “Shortly after, she got a letter from immigration saying she was scheduled for a removal hearing,” said Goodwill Industries Executive Director Gladys Hall, who championed Ms. Bentley's clemency case.

        Mr. Taft granted her clemency in January, and an immigration court judge stopped deportation proceedings three months later.

Worthless pardon
               In Mr. Al-Jailani's case, he turned to Mr. Taft for help after learning a Georgia woman avoided deportation through a governor's pardon.

        When Mr. Taft pardoned Mr. Al-Jailani in January, it was a question of mercy for a governor who has granted only 5 percent of all clemency requests brought to him.

        “You're talking about basically splitting a family up,” Mr. Klatt said.

        In a motion filed with the Board of Immigration Appeals, Mr. Al-Jailani's lawyer cited the pardon and poor economic and political conditions in Yemen as reasons why his client should be spared deportation.

        But the pardon is unlikely to help Mr. Al-Jailani.

        “Certain crimes a pardon will help,” said Linda Rabbett, deputy director of the Cleveland INS office. “Other cases — for example, domestic violence - a pardon will not help.”

        Columbus attorney David Bloomfield, who handles immigration cases, offered a more optimistic view.

        “Technically, she's right,” he said. “Practically, I don't know of any circumstance in which a judge would (deport someone).”

        Mr. Al-Jailani, a quality assurance chemist in Akron, doesn't get much sleep at night.

        “We can't plan for the future because I could be deported.” he said. “My lawyer is just trying to buy time so I can stay in the U.S.”

        Michele worries how she'll raise their 11-month-old son and two daughters, ages 4 and 2.

        “You think, "This is America and people have rights,'” she said. “But my husband can't defend himself.”

       



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