There Are Few Second Chances for Immigrants Who Commit Crimes

Photo by Alex Milan Tracy / Sipa via AP Images

At Guernica, Anjali Enjeti reports on the lives of immigrants who now live in fear of deportation after serving prison sentences for crimes they committed in their early lives. For US residents without legal citizenship, ICE leaves little opportunity for self-improvement. After their prison time, these immigrants have to regularly check in with ICE, who often detain them again, indefinitely, in facilities that resemble prisons, and essentially punish them for the same crime multiple times. This is the opposite of being born white in America, where white men repeated fail upwards.

Many of these residents fled trauma in their native countries only to endure trauma in America from racist taunts and violence, and now, the constant specter of detainment and deportation. This approach discounts everything good that these residents have done in their communities since their early crime. They work legal jobs, pay taxes, take care of their children and elderly family members and often volunteer at organizations that help other immigrants integrate into society. As The New York Times recently reported in “The Myth of the Criminal Immigrant,” this link between crime and non-citizen immigrants is a figment of America’s racist imagination, and as the mounting evidence shows, the white men in the current White House commit more crimes than immigrants do.

Since he left prison, he’s been a community organizer for juvenile justice reform and immigration rights, and founded API-ROC, an organization that assists with re-entry and immigration services for formerly incarcerated Asian and Pacific Islanders in Orange County. “Tung is a monumental part of our community,” says Lan Nguyen, a fellow community organizer who has attended activist training sessions with him. “He donates so much of his time and emotional labor into helping others.” He is also the primary earner for his wife and stepson.

But despite Nguyen’s success assimilating back into society, he’s often worried. Though he continues to live at home with his family, in 2011 an immigration judge issued a final order of removal. “Take my criminal file and compare it to who I am today,” says Nguyen. “I’m asking for mercy.” He doesn’t know when or whether ICE will detain him, and lives in fear that ICE will target him soon. “I’m just so vulnerable right now.”

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