Iraq War Veteran Returns Home, Wife Faces Deportation

Mara A. Cohen.  April 2, 2009.  New America Media.  Original link:

Editor’s note: Jack Barrios fought the war in Iraq, got wounded, only to come home to fight another war: his wife’s impending deportation. NAM contributing writer Mara A. Cohen-Marks, Ph.D. is a senior fellow at the University of California, San Diego's Urban Studies and Planning Program and is on the faculty of Loyola Marymount University’s Urban Studies Program. 

Jack Barrios, 25, knows a thing or two about war. He is an Iraq war veteran, who suffered brain damage and back and joint injuries while defending his homeland. At home in Los Angeles with his wife and two small children, Barrios is now on the front lines of a new battle.

His wife, who didn’t want her name to be revealed, emigrated from Guatemala, and has lived in the United States for 15 years. When the couple sought to legalize her status, they learned she had an outstanding deportation order from a court in Nebraska – where she never lived. Her father once applied for asylum when she was a minor and included her name on the application. Her name remained on the record after her father moved to Nebraska. Said Jack Barrios: “It’s not right that those of us who serve our country can get separated from our families when we come home.

He only learned that she had an outstanding deportation order when he asked a lawyer to help his wife to apply for legal status, and the lawyer learned about the asylum application that a notary in Los Angeles had helped her father file years earlier.

The soldier’s lament is sadly common. Immigration applicants must navigate a labyrinth of federal paperwork, lengthy backlogs, and unpredictable rule changes. Even permanent legal residents can be detained and deported over an innocent misstep, minor infraction, or government error. 

Policies that leave little possibility for reparation are no accident. Advocates of tighter restrictions have lobbied successfully for measures at the federal, state, and local levels they hope will wear down the will of immigrants to live and work in the United States, as well as to dissuade potential newcomers. The Center on Immigration Studies articulated the “attrition through enforcement” strategy in its 2006 report. “A subtle increase in the ‘heat’ on illegal aliens can be enough to dramatically reduce the scale of the problem within just a few years,” the group claimed.

When a bipartisan attempt to overhaul federal immigration policy derailed in 2007, state and local officials enlisted in the attrition war, denying public services to illegal immigrants, banning landlords from renting to them, and making it a crime to transport them. Some jurisdictions have even cracked down on taco trucks. 

Federal law enforcement and counter-terrorism efforts have been bogged down in the attrition war. In 2003, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau launched an aggressive campaign to root out fugitive aliens who could be a threat to national security and community safety. Agents were to go after the worst of the worst – transnational street gangsters, child sex offenders, and aliens with prior convictions for violent crimes. 

But in 2006, agency put ordinary immigrants in its crosshairs. That’s when officials jacked up each SWAT team’s annual arrest quota from 125 to 1,000, and dropped its initial directive that 75 percent of those arrested had to be guilty of something other than a routine immigration violation. 

Yet, that’s exactly who the scattershot raids of homes and workplaces have netted -- ordinary people whose only misdeed was to have entered or remained in the United States illegally. In the program’s five years, nearly three-quarters of the nearly 97,000 immigrants arrested had no criminal records. Fully 40 percent of those arrested in 2007 didn’t even have outstanding deportation orders. Meanwhile, the budget for the operations rocketed from $9 million to $218 million in five years, faster than that of any other Department of Homeland Security immigration enforcement program. 

Immigration hawks dragged the Department of Justice (DoJ) into the enforcement war, too. DoJ’s prosecutions of petty immigration violations doubled from 2000 to 2007 and then doubled again in 2008 to more than 70,000 cases, taking money and manpower away from tracking down dangerous felons like weapons smugglers, organized crime syndicates and drug kingpins. 

Ask border state residents if they feel safer. Phoenix alone has suffered more than 500 kidnappings linked to a bloody cross-border drug trade. With the U.S. Attorney’s Office mired in the attrition war, state prosecutors in Arizona recently lost a case against a local gun dealer accused of knowingly selling about 700 weapons to smugglers tied to a Mexican drug cartel. Approximately 90 percent of the illegal drugs flowing into the United States comes through Mexico, and some 90 percent of the weapons seized from drug traffickers or at crime scenes in south of the border originated in the United States. The drug money flowing south is in the tens of billions of dollars.

The Obama administration has moved to reverse upside-down enforcement priorities. In a joint White House press conference recently, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and other top officials unveiled plans to redeploy hundreds of ICE, Border Patrol, and other federal agents to the border. Officials said the move was part of a “comprehensive strategy” for border security. “We are suspending other small-scale stuff,” said one Homeland Security official. “We are focusing our priorities.” 

Representative Lamar Smith, the ranking immigration hawk on the Judiciary Committee, expressed “concern” that border enforcement could “undercut our national security and immigration enforcement responsibilities.” 

But to army veteran Jack Barrios, redeploying U.S. government resources to meet the real threats makes good sense. “I believe it is unfair that couples that love each other and children with loving parents have to be separated because of our broken immigration system.”