The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is at it again. The department responsible for deporting immigrants back to their native countries made another widespread sweep netting 3,000 individuals with prior criminal convictions. This operation was the country's largest since 2003. Immigration and criminal defense lawyers around the country will have their hands full in attempting to have family members released from immigration custody. The recent operation involved 2,901 arrests during an operation that lasted seven days and was spread across all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In Florida alone, 272 arrests were made with 56 coming in Miami-Dade County and 41 in Broward County.
The unusual thing about the latest ICE operation is that all of the individuals detained had prior criminal convictions. According to experts, immigration is changing its policy in that the department is seeking to detain and deport immigrants with criminal records and not undocumented immigrants lacking criminal records. Immigrants lacking criminal records are to be considered low priority cases, not necessarily subject to deportation. There are three categories of immigrants that now have high-priority for deportation: those with criminal records, those that are arrested crossing the border, and those have been previously deported and have returned.
This ICE operation specifically targeted individuals with prior criminal records. Of the 2,901 immigrants detained, more than 1,000 are considered to be highly dangerous criminals, while 42 were documented gang members and 151 are sexual offenders. Many of those detained had criminal convictions for murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, armed burglary, drug trafficking, aggravated child abuse, sexual offenses, aggravated assault and aggravated battery. Beside being detained for criminal records, some of the immigrants were arrested on additional charges for failing to abide by deportation orders or returning to the country after having been previously deported.
Loved ones who have family members in custody typically seek out immigration attorneys to assist in these legal proceedings. Often times, immigration lawyers have their hands tied in attempting to free someone from immigration custody. In most circumstances, the only way to circumvent deportation is by returning to criminal court and filing a motion for post-conviction relief. While the United States Supreme Court has recently handed down precedent allowing for relief when a defendant received affirmative mis-advice regarding the immigration consequences of taking a plea to particular charges. Even simple offense such as cocaine possession or possession of marijuana can allow for deportation. While the case handed down by the Supreme Court is helpful, Florida District Courts of Appeal have severely limited the circumstances when someone is entitled to vacate a plea. Unless the Florida Supreme Court reigns in the appellate courts, winning motions to vacate will be an uphill battle. Despite the current state of the law, experienced criminal defense lawyers can still win motions to vacate sentences. Most of the success will be garnered by unconventional means. In the end it does not matter how a criminal record is vacated, but that is in fact vacated.
ICE Detains Nearly 3,000 with Criminal Records, Miami Herald.com, September 28, 2011.