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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Our Immigration System Isn’t Broken; The Machine Operates as Designed

My Permanent Resident Visa says “Permanent” on it, yet I’m being deported. When friends ask why the Federal government is pursuing me so relentlessly I assure them that I’m not being singled out; this is how the process works.

I was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. My dad worked for a division of Capitol Records and received a transfer to Los Angeles, got permanent resident visas for the whole family and when I was two years eleven months old, we moved to the States. I grew up in Glendale, California, where I said the pledge of allegiance, played baseball, and lived like any American. Except for a first grade teacher who told me I could never be President, I thought I was just like everybody else. In high school, I played guitar in a band, played first base for the jv then varsity baseball team. All in all, I was living an American life.

Shortly after high school, I was convicted of misdemeanor receipt of stolen goods (the alleged stolen property was a $50 8track tape deck, like the one your dad had in his Oldsmobile). I wasn't guilty of the offense, but in a misguided act of adolescent loyalty to a friend of dubious morality, I plead not guilty and went to trial, relying on the worst public defender ever. I was 18 years old, on my own, and without any support system.

I had no prior run-ins with the law, but the judge resented me for not ratting on my friend. He fined me $500 dollars (a lot of money in 1978) gave me three years of formal probation and a 365 day suspended sentence. I stayed out of trouble, served no jail time and had the case expunged from the record 5 years later in 1983.

And now, today, because of the 365 day suspended sentence from a 1978 misdemeanor that was expunged in 1983, reopened and vacated in 2005 on the advice of my immigration judge, I am being deported. 1996 Immigration laws (IIRIRA) have been used retroactively against me, and the expunged 365 day suspended sentence from 1978 made me an aggravated felon for purpose of removal. In other words, I'm not an aggravated felon except for the government wanting to rip me apart from my family and everything that makes life worth living.
Being in removal proceedings separates you from your life, your loved ones and any shred of tranquility or peace of mind that you may have once had a shot at. I live in constant fear. I’m fifty. My forties were wasted on this still unresolved nightmare. I fall farther and farther into the pit every day, both financially and spiritually.

I spent a miserable month at the Lancaster Detention Facility. I was lucky. I got out (for now). Many of the people there had been detained for years with no bail, no court date, no charges, and no idea of when they were going to get out, if ever. Few can appreciate what this kind of uncertainty does to people and how it traumatizes them. It makes them hopeless and desperate.

In the past nine years I’ve written thousands of pages of motions and petitions; I’ve held off 4 Attorneys General and countless government lawyers. It’s not life or death to them as it is to me. They go home and think of other things, secure in the knowledge that the awesome force that is the Federal Government will not be used against them.

The immigration system isn’t broken; The Machine operates as designed. Once you get on the deportation merry-go-round, you will only get off if a Circuit court orders it so (and then pray it holds up when the Government appeals any immigrant’s favorable ruling). This will be a daunting all-consuming endeavor which anyone is likely to lose. You will certainly be ruined in the process if you survive it. I often question whether I will.

Mike Burrows
You can follow me on Twitter: Mike_Burrows


  1. You might want to revisit your case in light of last week's Supreme Court decision, Padilla v. Kentucky:

    If your lawyer didn't advise you there would be immigration consequences, this might be ineffective assistance under Padilla, possibly enough to get post conviction relief on the criminal case that would be valid for immigration purposes. Be aware that some states have a short window for post-conviction relief after a change in the law--in PA that's 60 days after the date Padilla was decided (3/31/10).
    Your case might be complicated if no serious immigration consequences stemming from your conviction existed in 1978 ... but I think it's worth looking into at least.
    Some more resources:

    I agree the system is working just as intended, it's not broken at all.

    Dave Bennion

  2. Thank you, Dave. Two questions... 1) with whom do I file and 2) does it matter that I had the benefit of going to trial to get convicted? public defender obviously didn't warn me in 1978 of consequences of 1996 law.

  3. Incredible, RT'd. Saw it too often as deportation defense paralegal. Thousand$ to immigration lawyers, yet we have to look 'forward' to additional fines to get 'reform'. It's 'democracy' that's broken, and there's only one cure: More Democracy.

  4. I am sorry for what you are going through.Can you imagine going through this as a child though all alone because your parents were deorted without you because you are a citizen and they are not. Well it's about to happen to 100's of thousands of children . The one's so hatefully being called anchor babies. I will pray for you when I pray for them nightly. Good luck to you in your strggle to resolve this.