Sunday, March 15, 2009

Immigrants Face Long Detention, Few Rights - (Update on Sarjina Emy)

An MSNBC article, "Immigrants Face Long Detentions, Few Rights," gives us an update on Sarjina Emy; a 20 year old honors student who was brought to this country at the age of 5 from Bangladesh and spent nearly 2 years in a detention facility.

"We're immigrants, and it makes it seem like it's worse than a criminal," said Sarjina Emy, a 20-year-old former honors student who spent nearly two years in a Florida lockup because her parents' asylum claim was denied when she was a child. "I always thought America does so much for justice. I really thought you get a fair trial. You actually go to court. (U.S. authorities) know what they are doing. Now, I figured out that it only works for criminal citizens."

Emy, who was raised in Orlando, Fla., spent 20 months in a detention center even though she had no criminal record. She traded her Baby Phat clothes for a gray uniform and window-shopping at the mall for a law library behind razor wire.

Her only crime? Her parents, who feared her father's political affiliations endangered the family, brought her and two brothers to the United States from Bangladesh in September 2003 — when she was 5, according to court documents.

She doesn't speak Bangla and never imagined a future without college. No one in her family realized her father's work certificate from the Labor Department didn't equate to legal immigration status.

Family members were rounded up in July 2007, treated as fugitives on a dated but active deportation order.

Her parents were deported first. Emy languished in custody while continuing her fight to stay.

But because the asylum application had been filed on behalf of the entire family, only the parents got a hearing. Emy never saw a judge, according to Emy and her attorney.

"Justice is not being served," she said from a prison pay phone.

In January, a federal appeals court denied her petition to stay in the U.S. Fearing she'd celebrate another birthday behind bars, Emy agreed to be deported and left the country Feb. 18.

Immigration law "is the only United States law where we punish the children for the actions of their parents," said Emy's attorney, Petia Vimitrova Knowles.

Immigration violations are considered civil, something akin to a moving violation in a car, so the government can imprison immigrants without many of the rights criminals receive: No court-appointed attorney for indigent defendants, no standard habeas corpus, no protection from double jeopardy, no guarantee of a speedy trial.

"You're locking up people without even a hearing," said Judy Rabinovitz of the American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrants Rights Project. "That, to me, is the outrage: basic due process. Since when do we allow the government to lock up people without even giving them a bond hearing?"

This is our tax dollars at work. Imprisoning honors students for 20 months, without even a hearing, and deporting them back to a country they don't know or remember. When will people wake up and realize we need people like Emy in the United States? She did nothing to deserve the unfair and inhumane treatment she received, let alone getting deported from her country. I hope she's doing well.

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