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Supreme Court says the government was wrong. and now people are living a lifetime in banishment: READ more about the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals at tx1o,com/fifth READ the Supreme Court’s Carachuri-Rosendo ruling at ARLOS ROYBAL ALWAYS THOUGHT of himself as an American. Born in Chile, he’d lived in the United States legally since he was five months old, growing up in a middle-class Miami neighborhood. In 2006, Roybal was studying to become a sound engineer at Miami Dade College. “That was my dream,” he says. When Roybalwho asked that a pseudonym be used for this storyreturned to the United States from a vacation in January 2006, things turned nightmarish. After Roybal presented his permanent resident card to U.S. immigration authorities, they checked it against a Department of Homeland Security database and found that he had a criminal recorddating back almost a decadeof two misdemeanor convictions for possessing half a marijuana joint and a single tab of LSD. That August, Roybal was ordered to appear in immigration court. He was deported to Chile, a country he had not visited since infancyand where only a few of his relatives remained. Like tens of thousands of others, Roybal had been swept up in the US. government’s push to deport immigrantslegal immigrants includedwith multiple convictions. “I never thought in a hundred years that I would be deported,” he tells the Observer, speaking by phone from Chile. His father’s sudden death when he was 18 had led him to experiment with drugs briefly, he says. “I was trying to run away from myself and my problems.” Roybal made another mistake during that difficult period. Roybal’s father, unlike most of his family, had refused to become an American citizen, declaring himself a proud Chilean. After his death, Roybal decided that he would honor his father by eschewing U.S. citizenship too. When ICE agents locked him up in a Miami detention center to await his hearing, Roybal remembers thinking there had to be a mistake. “They took my clothes and told me I’d need to sign some papers to get them back,” he recalls. “I signed the papers. Then an agent came to me and said, ‘We’re sending you to Texas.”‘ For any detainee, that is bad news. Roybal became one of thousands of immigrant detainees shipped to Texas in recent yearspartly because the 5th Circuit US. Court of Appeals, which encompasses Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, has a well-earned reputation as the nation’s toughest on immigration cases. Immigrant advocates charge that tens of thousands of detainees have been sent to Texas in recent years so their cases will be heard in the 5th Circuit. \(Another, more pragmatic, reason: There are Because Roybal wasn’t a U.S. citizen, he had no right to a court-appointed attorney. Unlike 86 percent of detainees in Texas, he had the means to afford a private immigration attorney. Still, he couldn’t stop Immigration and Customs Enforcement from holding his hearing in Texas, though his lawyer and family were in Miami. Roybal and his attorney got the customary 20 minutes with an immigration judge. “I had already been in detention for two months,” he says. “The judge said I’d be charged with an aggravated felony”a deportable offense. “My heart just sunk, and I couldn’t believe it. That’s when reality set in.” Roybal refused to sign his deportation papers. After five months at the Port Isabel Detention Center near Brownsville and the South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall, he gave in. “I had no shoes for two-and-ahalf weeks, and the food was so awful I wouldn’t even feed it to a dog,” he says. “They just wore you down.” By the time Roybal reached Chile, news came that his mother had died back in Florida. His request for a temporary visa to attend her funeral was denied by ICE. “It’s still very hard to think about,” he says. “I was in the United States legally and had never committed any serious crimes. I thought deportation was for the bad guysdrug cartel members and murderers.” Increasingly, the “bad guys” are people with minor offenses like Roybal’s. Under much-disputed federal law, ICE maintains that two misdemeanor convictions for drug possession constitute an aggravated felony that mandates deportation. When you’re convicted, immigration judges are then unable to consider other factors, such as good conduct or family hardship, in deportation decisions. It all began with the sweeping revision of immigration laws in 1996. This reform removed judicial discretion in cases like Roybal’s and expanded the list of crimes that could be defined as aggravated felonies. During the final years of the Bush administration, a renewed push to deport more immigrants landed thousands more legal residents with multiple misdemeanors on their records in detention centers and immigration courts. Daniel Kanstroom, a law professor who founded Boston College’s Post-Deportation Human Rights Project, calls it a “radical policy experiment with devastating effects. Deportation was a relatively small-scale operation until the last 15 years or so. Since 1996, though, we have seen a tsunami of deportation because of harsh new laws that, in my view, overreacted to the problem. They removed discretion and mercy, and reduced judicial oversight.” The results are clear. In 2009, a record 387,000 immigrants were deported. The feds do not report how many were legal immigrants like Roybal, or how many were kicked out of the country for minor drug possession. Immigration attorneys and scholars say the number has skyrocketed. For 2010, ICE set a goal of 400,000 deportations, according to an internal memo unearthed by The Washington Post. Last month, ICE’s goal became a little harder to reach 12 j THE TEXAS OBSERVER WWW.TEXASOBSERVER.ORG