Give me only some of your huddled masses

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By Khara Coleman

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I did something the other morning that I had not done in years — I read through the Immigration and Naturalization Act (https://www.uscis.gov/laws/immigration-and-nationality-act). I wanted to see if there have been any glaring changes since I took an Immigration Law course in law school. 

There have been changes in the law, but, as I suspected, the immigration system and the criminal justice system are still separate. 

What does this mean?  American immigration law is complicated, but for the population of asylum seekers in the news right now are, it must be emphasized that when they arrive at an American border without legal status or visas, they will be processed through the immigration courts system.  Inarguably, they are subject to "immigration court," which is governed by immigration law.

Separate from that is "criminal court," governed by criminal statutes, both state and federal, pursuant to which it is, in fact, a crime to enter the United States of America illegally. 

But as with any crime, there is discretion as to whether to charge someone. For example, if you get pulled over for speeding, you may not get a ticket because an officer may, in his or her discretion, decide that a verbal warning will do. Jaywalking is a crime. Depending on where you are, drinking in public is a crime. We all know that not everyone who commits a crime will be charged and prosecuted in criminal courts. In addition, everyone who is arrested is not detained. Many are released and they later return to court on scheduled court dates.

I wanted to explain all of this because President Trump's policy is not just an immigration policy. He is advocating aggressive use of the criminal justice system against the weakest amongst us. There is no change in whether those who seek legal status in this country, for any reason, need to be processed through the immigration system. The difference is that now, pursuant to the policy of this presidential administration, in addition to immigration court dates and processing, asylum and other visa seekers will have a criminal case and criminal court dates as well. 

To blame this policy change on any written immigration law is to punt the issue. Nothing in the asylum sections of the INA says that each applicant for asylum must also be charged and prosecuted in the federal criminal courts. Families were being separated because parents are facing criminal charges and being detained, not simply because parents were undocumented and in court.

Jeff Sessions' words echo in my head: "a zero-tolerance policy for illegal entry on our southwest border." A policy specifically for those who come from South and Central America! 

This is painful and shameful to watch. Especially for a country that advertises, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore." I know that America never really meant those words — not for everyone, anyway. 

As we hear the sounds of panicked and frightened children, one might interpret Lady Liberty's words as some sort of cruel joke.

Khara Coleman is a Chicago attorney and an Oak Park resident.

Reader Comments

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Bruce Kline  

Posted: July 1st, 2018 10:17 PM

Neal: Bingo!

Neal Buer  

Posted: July 1st, 2018 6:25 PM

Bruce, why change legislation if you can use it to score political points? We have the best Congress money can buy.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: July 1st, 2018 4:37 PM

Neal: I'll tell you what the plan should be. Congress - you know our so called representatives - should do its duty. The Congress should update the Immigration and Naturalization Act, which it last did almost 30 years ago (1990). To me this is obvious. Am I missing something here?

Neal Buer  

Posted: July 1st, 2018 4:18 PM

Not sure even the U. S. can handle this stampede.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: July 1st, 2018 11:31 AM

Maybe if the richest, most powerful country on earth would bother to process humanitarian asylum requests in something less than four years, your concerns would be moot.

Neal Buer  

Posted: July 1st, 2018 8:12 AM

So, the asylum seekers stay here and have kids, then argue that their babies are American citizens, and we know we cannot separate families. Isn't this just an open door policy to let anyone come into the U. S.?

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: July 1st, 2018 2:40 AM

According to the Refugee Center online, a Feb. 2018 Tribune article and other sources, there are about 300,000 people currently awaiting hearings. Many of those cases go back as far as three or four years. As for those from Central America, they are stepping forward and presenting themselves to US authorities, not trying to sneak over the border.

Neal Buer  

Posted: June 30th, 2018 8:48 PM

I heard that 770,000 are awaiting an asylum hearing. If that is true, are they returned to their to their country, or is it a backdoor to enter the U. S. legally? If there are no borders, and the laws can be violated at people descretion, is there a country? Some estimate that without border control. 160 million would enter the U. S. Without approval. Someone tell me what the plan should be. No borders doesn't seem to be a workable solution.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: June 30th, 2018 11:47 AM

This is what passes for political conversation/debate today. False equivalency between what the Obama administration did with the children of illegal immigrants (and yeah, I really do wish Dems would stop trying to apply euphemisms to it- it's illegal immigration) and what the Trump regime is pulling. The actual details show it to be night and day scenarios, but most people now days are apparently too lazy to delve into the actual facts and details. So everything becomes equal. It's not.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: June 29th, 2018 11:51 PM

I wonder if Jeffrey has the same concern when black men are incarcerated at a staggering rate leaving behind wives and children. I doubt it. No worries April. He is just a troll who pops up here from time to time adding absolutely nothing to the discussion, but gets off on stirring the pot.

April Winter  

Posted: June 29th, 2018 3:55 PM

Jeffrey, check out Facebook and you will find many April Winters but this is a fake name--you are correct, sir! Please continue to focus on that because you have nothing else to say about the phony tears from those who didn't say anything when Obama did what he did regarding immigration.

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: June 29th, 2018 3:22 PM

Excellent column, Khara Coleman. Ignore comments from folks with imaginary names like Princess Summerfallwinterspring. (Sorry for the Boomer reference - that princess was a character on the Howdy Doody show back in the 50s!)

April Winter  

Posted: June 29th, 2018 2:19 PM

What about when Obama was POTUS? How did your heart feel then? Even Newsweek, which has hardly been supportive of Trump, had an article on May 30th of this year entitled: "OBAMA HELD MORE THAN DOUBLE THE NUMBER OF CHILDREN IN SHELTERS COMPARED TO TRUMP WHITE HOUSE." So spare me your sudden concern regarding this issue, unless you can link me to your hand-wringing posts from back then.

Clara Collins Coleman from Saint Louis  

Posted: June 29th, 2018 2:13 PM

For True my lady liberty. We must speak up, stand up and vote against this dangerous anti-American agenda! My heart aches for our children.

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