” In the year ending in June, as part of a new federal project, more than 1,800 foreign-born New Yorkers who had completed short terms at Rikers were turned over to immigration authorities for deportation, officials said. Many, like Mr. Venant, were legal residents who had pleaded guilty to misdemeanors, unaware that they were making themselves deportable, or that the government could send them to wait in jail cells far from family, friends and legal help.
A highly critical report by an American Bar Association committee recently concluded that the United States is operating a two-tier system of justice in which noncitizens are being deported in record numbers “in many cases for the slightest infractions and often with little or no chance to appeal.” Lawyers for immigrants say that deportation is now routinely a penalty out of proportion to the crime.
Many of the 140,000 immigrants detained nationally last year faced removal after serving prison terms for serious crimes. But under immigration law, any nonviolent offense punishable by a year in jail, even shoplifting, can be termed “an aggravated felony” requiring mandatory detention and exile from the United States. Any crime involving an intent to defraud, even turnstile jumping, can meet the threshold of “moral turpitude,” generally defined in case law as “conduct that shocks the public conscience.”
Nina Bernstein, When a MetroCard Led Far Out of Town, New York Times.