Illegal Immigrant Advocates Push for 'Justice Fulfilled'

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

( - A coalition of community and ethnic groups on Thursday sponsored a "night of 1,000 conversations" dealing with what it considers America's "broken" immigration system. The advocates for illegal workers want comprehensive immigration reform that would make it easier for the workers to remain in the United States.

"Fundamentally, we have a broken immigration system that's been continuing to get more and more broken," Pramila Jayapal, executive director of the Hate Free Zone, said in a conference call with reporters Thursday. "Let's make sure that there's really fairness in the immigration system."

Jayapal's group is one of more than 200 members of the Rights Working Group (RWG), a coalition "dedicated to ensuring that the American commitment to liberty and justice is fulfilled," according to its website.

Members of the coalition, including the United Farm Workers union and numerous Latino, Asian and Arab interest groups, organized home-based discussions which took place across the country Thursday night. Jayapal said more than 5,000 people would participate in more than 500 discussions in 27 states.

"With undocumented immigrants, with documented immigrants, we believe that there needs to be a fair process ... to have their circumstances heard and to make sure that they have access to the courts," Jayapal said.

One of the group's main goals is to allow deportation authorities to consider individual circumstances. The group hopes such flexibility would prevent illegal immigrants from being deported if they have citizen children, are the sole bread winner of a household, or face possible persecution in their homeland.

"This is about everybody," Jayapal said. "This is about protecting the rights of everybody to fairness and to due process."

RWG is calling on the government to "stop automatic imprisonment and deportation without due process," protect due process in immigration proceedings and "make sure that judicial review is available." The group is critical of what it calls "the government's over-reactive detention and deportation practices."

RWG said it is not in favor of bending the rules or "looking the other way" when considering individual circumstances in deportation cases. "In all cases we're in favor of the law being enforced, we've in favor of the rule of law," RWG Director of policy and planning Kerri Sherlock said.

However, "historically judges have been able to consider the circumstances of individual cases," Sherlock said. "It's only because of recent laws that really go too far in denying basic due process that we're in a situation where families can be ripped apart without having a judge look at individual circumstances."

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said the authority to review individual circumstances was revoked by Congress in 1996, because it was being overused.

"The reason Congress limited the discretion of immigration judges in 1996 was that immigration lawyers were essentially preventing enforcement of the immigration laws," Krikorian told Cybercast News Service. "Discretion was so frequently used that not many people were getting deported."

Krikorian said RWG and its members "obviously want to go back to that kind of situation where everybody gets an exception, where everybody gets a waiver, where nobody has to leave."

He added that people living in the United States illegally are not afforded due process rights in deportation hearings because the hearings are civil, not criminal cases.

"Illegal aliens in deportation matters have only as much due process as we decide to give them," Krikorian said. "They have no rights in this matter because it's not a criminal matter."

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