Monday, February 23, 2009

After 4 and 1/2 years locked up, Mory gets a bracelet

By H. Nelson Goodson & Jon Higuera

KEARNEY, N.J. – Moises “Mory” Lamas, a 52-year-old native of Peru, walked out of the Hudson County Correctional Center here a free man — for now — after being held in custody 4 1/2 years by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an arm of Homeland Security.
He says he was given no explanation as to why he was released, and he asked no questions.
In 1986 President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform & Control Act, with an amnesty provision that brought almost 3 million undocumented immigrants out of the shadows. Reagan stated, “Future generations will be thankful for our efforts to humanely regain control of our borders and thereby preserve the value of one of the most sacred possessions of our people, American citizenship.”
Both Lamas and his wife Ruth, who reside in West New York, N.J., had already filed applications for amnesty, but his paperwork was held up due to a misdemeanor conviction in June of 1986.
His crime: when he was still undocumented, he was charged with possession of a controlled substance.


Lamas, who has lived in the United States for 26 years, was riding with an acquaintance who was carrying 3.5 grams of cocaine.
The acquaintance confessed to police that the drugs belonged to him and that Lamas knew nothing about them.
On his attorney’s advice and to avoid an expensive trial, Lamas pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge and was sentenced to 364 days in jail.
He was required to serve less than half that time. Never did he imagine that the charges could later have consequences with his immigration status.
Fast forward to 1999. After 13 years of clean living, including serving as president of Local 13742 of the United Steelworkers of America, his earlier conviction put him squarely in ICE’s sights for deportation. It started after his wife was sworn in as a U.S. citizen and later filed a petition for a status adjustment for her husband.
Instead, immigration authorities used the 1996 “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act” passed by the Republican- controlled Congress and signed into law by then-Presiden William Clinton to begin deportation proceedings against him.


The act allows numerous offenses, including some misdemeanors, to be reclassified as aggravated felonies for which a person can be deported or deemed “ineligible” for citizenship.
Since then, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states cannot elevate a crime to a felony if it is only a misdemeanor under the federal Controlled Substance Act.
In Lamas’ case, immigration officials classified the state misdemeanor conviction as an aggravated felony under the 1996 federal act. They failed to abide by the U.S. Supreme Court decision that such convictions are not felonies punishable under the Controlled Substance Act.
In December 2003, the government had issued an order stating Lamas must leave the country, an order Lamas says he had no knowledge of. In May 2004, he was arrested at work by ICE. During his time in custody, his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent two surgeries. Lamas and his wife have a 14-year-old daughter.


His situation took a turn for the better when his case was featured in several stories in the Wisconsin-based El Conquistador newspaper. Lamas had contacted it and several other media explaining his predicament. Only El Conquistador followed up.
On his release, Lamas expressed gratitude to the paper for its coverage and in a video posted on YouTube, he thanked everyone he felt had in one way or another helped to get him released.
During his time in ICE’s custody, Lamas earned the respect and affection of fellow inmates by helping them with their legal arguments.
They applauded and cheered him the day he walked away.
As he challenges the validity of his deportation proceedings, Lamas now lives at home with a government-issued bracelet wrapped around his ankle, another casualty of the war on immigrants.

(H. Nelson Goodson is managing editor of El Conquistador in Milwaukee. Jon Higuera, of Phoenix, writes free-lance. Email H. Nelson Goodson: Hispanic Link.
Article appeared in The Reporter Newspaper in San Francisco, CA.
Published in ELREPORTEROSF.COM, January 4 - 13, 2009, Volume 18, No. 49

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