Help set the NY Times straight on immigrant veterans...

In a recent article, the New York Times covered the story of a veteran of the Persian Gulf War that has been detained by ICE for the last three years. He has finally won a hearing to fight for his freedom after three years of suffering in detention. (the article is pasted below)

Thanks to a Detention Watch Network member for pointing out - "The article ends: "Jim Benson, a spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said that in his eight years with the agency he had not heard of any other veterans in danger of being deported"

It is unbelievable that the spokesman for the Department of Veteran Affairs says that he has never heard of a veteran in danger of deportation. There has been lots of press on this issue, as well as reported cases (e.g. Marquez in the 2d Circuit) and proposed legislation from Leahy and Serrano that was introduced various times.   It would be great if folks with veteran cases would write to the New York Times and impress on them how common it is for veterans to face detention and deportation."

The article:

Veteran Facing Deportation Wins Hearing for Freedom By TINA KELLEY NEWARK, May 22 — A veteran of the Persian Gulf war of 1991 who has been in custody for three years while United States immigration officials have tried to deport him has been granted a hearing to determine if he is being held legally.

The veteran, Warren Joseph, 40, has been detained by immigration officials since 2004 after serving six months in Fort Dix for violating his probation on a weapons charge.

Judge Jose L. Linares of Federal District Court here ruled Tuesday that Mr. Joseph — who has had permanent legal immigration status since moving to the United States from Trinidad in 1987 — was entitled to a hearing about whether he has been held too long in violation of his rights. The hearing is scheduled for June 19.

“This is very same country that I served, that I fought for, and called me an American while I was in the military,” Mr. Joseph said in a phone interview from the Hudson County Correctional Center in Kearny, N.J.

Referring to his long detention, he said, “For me, it is like a slap in the face. I love this country.”

Mr. Joseph has been fighting his case on two fronts. His lawyers have argued that the crime he committed is not a deportable offense. At the same time, they have said that Mr. Joseph should be set free.

Mr. Joseph came to the United States when he was 20 to join his mother. He was living in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn when he joined the Army in 1988, serving for eight years and fighting in Iraq, where he was injured during the war to oust Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait. After receiving commendations and an honorable discharge in 1996, Mr. Joseph returned to Brooklyn, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, hearing loss, depression and other war-related ailments, his lawyers have said in court papers.

In 2001, he pleaded guilty in federal court to transporting or receiving firearms without a license after he bought guns for people to whom he owed money, said one of Mr. Joseph’s lawyers, Amrit Singh of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. He was sentenced to four years of probation.

According to the court papers, Mr. Joseph was “suffering from partial paralysis and debilitating depression” in 2003 when he moved into his mother’s house without telling his probation officer, a violation of his probation. He was sentenced to six months in jail, and when he completed that sentence in 2004, Mr. Joseph was taken into custody by immigration officials, who are seeking to deport him on the firearms conviction.

Mr. Joseph’s lawyers have argued that his conviction was not severe enough to require his deportation. In October, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit agreed, ruling that the crime was not an “aggravated felony” that would require automatic deportation. But another section of federal immigration law requires the detention of immigrants convicted of certain crimes, even if they are not considered a danger to society.

“The government’s claim is they can lock him up without a hearing indefinitely while his removal proceedings are pending in court,” Ms. Singh said.

Marc Raimondi, acting press secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Washington, said in a statement, “His detention is mandated under law based upon a past criminal conviction.”

Referring to federal law in general, and not to Mr. Joseph’s case in particular, Mr. Raimondi pointed to a provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act that says any immigrant convicted of buying, selling, owning or carrying a weapon “in violation of any law is deportable.”

Mr. Joseph said that he had twice applied for citizenship, first in 1994 and again a year later. On one occasion, he said, the military did not forward his discharge papers in time; in the other, he was $20 short on his application fee. Had he obtained citizenship, he could not be deported.

Jim Benson, a spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said that in his eight years with the agency he had not heard of any other veterans in danger of being deported.