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Administration’s shameful track record betrays basic principles of human rights, misuses discretionary policy

Statement by Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director, Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center

Determined to reach its milestone two-millionth deportation, the Obama administration on Friday deported 69-year-old Carlos Leopoldo “Papi” Guillen without a hearing. Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center calls on the president to take immediate action to end unfair deportations and family separation.

Papi’s deportation to Ecuador illustrates the heartlessness of the White House’s deportation “policy,” which every week separates thousands of men, women, and children from their American families and communities without regard to individuals’ contributions or deep roots in our society. It also shows the failure of the president’s prosecutorial discretion policy, which appears to rest on one formula: any past conviction, no matter how long ago, and regardless of severity, is grounds for immediate deportation. As a result, deportees are returned to countries where they face risks to their safety, while their American families suffer deep emotional and financial costs because of the separation.

A lawful permanent resident and father of three who lived in the United States for 30 years, Papi owned a home, drove a delivery truck and worked as a salesperson in Houston until 1992, when he pled guilty to a single drug charge. At the time of his guilty plea, Papi did not receive competent legal advice as to how the plea would impact his immigration status. After completing his prison sentence, Papi was deported to Ecuador when his youngest child was eight years old. Because of U.S. deportation policies, he was denied the opportunity to present his immigration case in court.

Today, Papi suffers from declining health and his children struggle to pay for his living expenses and travel to care for him. His daughter, a physician assistant, said if he were allowed to rejoin his family in the United States she could care for him personally and the family could better afford to pay for his medical expenses without putting their own jobs in peril with extended absences to care for their father.

In February, Papi risked his life and returned to the United States to reunite with his family for his final years. Papi was apprehended and detained first in Texas and then Louisiana. The Guillen family requested that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) exercise prosecutorial discretion in their father’s case, demonstrating that he is not a danger to the community and that deporting him would cause significant emotional and economic hardship for his U.S. citizen family members. Just over one week ago, his family also filed a claim against the U.S. and Ecuadoran governments before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, asking the international tribunal to issue precautionary measures to stop Papi’s deportation.

Sadly, on March 28, ICE ignored its own prosecutorial discretion policies and international law and deported Papi. Two million deportations, particularly when immigration to the United States is historically low, is a shameful milestone. In light of Congress’ failure to fix our broken immigration system, President Obama must take executive action now to end unnecessary and inhumane deportations.