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Dear Mr. President: These People Are Not Criminals

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Nov 01, 2011
DianeDowgiert1108

The Rev. Diane Dowgiert is the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson.

Dear Mr. President,

In August, your administration declared that the focus for deportations would be on those convicted of serious crimes.

Yesterday, I witnessed hearings for 75 people charged with felonies. The whole proceeding took just a little over an hour.

The venue was the Federal Courthouse in Tucson, Arizona—room 2013, courtroom 2A, the “Special Proceedings” room—to be exact.

When I entered the courtroom, the defendants were already there. They filled one-third of the seating area usually occupied by the general public. They also filled what is usually the jury box. In addition, six of them stood before microphones in front of the bench.

The six who stood before the bench had not accepted plea bargain agreements. They elected, instead, to stand trial.

Then, the remaining defendants were brought before the bench, seven at a time. Each stood before a microphone, some of them visibly shaking. Behind each defendant stood a public defender. Each defendant wore a headset so they could hear the Spanish translation as charges against them were being read and they were asked to enter a plea.

All of the 75 defendants were charged with the same “crime”: being in this country without the proper documents.

I listened closely as the charges were read. My hearing isn’t the best, and the judge spoke quickly and softly. From what I heard, the only “crime” committed by any of the 75 was to be in the country without proper documentation.

Of the 75, as I recollect, 6 refused plea bargain arrangements, choosing to stand trial at a later date. Charges were dismissed against one man because he was a juvenile at the time of arrest. Three were from Honduras. All the rest, from Mexico. Seven, maybe eight, were women. All were shackled, hand and foot.

The sentences handed down ranged from time served—one to three days—to ninety, one-hundred-twenty, to one-hundred-fifty days in jail. American jail.

Defendants were given the opportunity to speak. Only a handful did so.

One man clearly thought he was being charged with driving without a license. The judge patiently explained that he was being charged with being in the country illegally—a felony.

One woman challenged the date of her arrest. Again, the judge patiently explained that the court was on solid ground because of the language…”on, or about…” Only she heard the Spanish translation of the judge’s remarks. Who knows what was really said, or heard?

One man, when given the opportunity to speak, begged the judge for a more lenient sentence. The judge, again, with utmost patience, explained that there was once a time when judges were given discretion in sentencing, but that those days were long gone. His hands were tied.

I tried to make eye contact with each defendant as they shuffled out of the courtroom, struggling as they were with handcuffs and ankle shackles.

Some smiled, put their hands in prayer position, and nodded. Others hung their heads in shame—especially the women.

The ones that weigh heaviest on my heart tonight are those whose eyes were too dead to meet mine, too filled with confusion and despair to comprehend that someone cared what happened to them.

Your order was to deport criminals. These people are not criminals. This court proceeding happens three times a week here in Tucson, Arizona. Just thought you should know.

Sincerely,

The Reverend Diane Dowgiert

Tucson, Arizona

3 Responses to “Dear Mr. President: These People Are Not Criminals”

  1. Amy says:

    This is not a “shame on Mr President” situation. The president is responsible for upholding the law. He attempted to make several changes in our legal system to allow for illegal aliens to remain in this country but the people of America put their foot down. I really resent the statement that these people have done no wrong. Our educational system is very fragile and has little to no funding, we are barely able to teach our own children. We have a welfare system being overrun by people who do not contribute to it & show they have no income though they are working in the US, undocumented. They pay no taxes yet reap the benefits of our country and it puts a very heavy burden on very thin shoulders. If they would only apply for citizenship they could stay in this country but they don’t. If you see nothing wrong with this then please, by all means take in every unfortunate person outside of the US. Personally I am more concerned with offering help to those my tax money was originally intended to help. It may sound harsh but I have a responsibility to look out for my American neighbor. The country these people come from should be held accountable for not taking care of their responsibilities, a job well suited for the UN. Of course if you go to Mexico and try to establish a homestead, as an illegal alien you will be prosecuted on the federal level. I’m sure their federal prisons are very posh. Wait, I just realized EVERY COUNTRY HAS HARSHER IMMIGRATION LAWS THAN WE DO! Well don’t that beat all…

    And another thing…you look at my son and tell him that he deserves less because you think so; regardless of the fact that his mother works full time, takes a full time college course load so he is not a welfare child. You are demanding that I sacrifice more for people who aren’t even grateful enough to try for citizenship. Digest this: there is currently college funding for illegal immigrants through a grant program. The program was started in hopes these people would finish college & join the American workforce. They didn’t. They all returned to their former countries.

    I understand that God expects us to lend a helping hand but I don’t think he meant at the expense of others and I’m certain it is next to impossible to help those that don’t help themselves. Don’t find blame in the president, he was on your side. You’ve just soiled the name of someone who didn’t deserve it.

  2. Robin Vestal says:

    To Amy,

    Being in the country illegally is a civil not a criminal offense (like jaywalking and speeding). People here illegally are not eligible for welfare benefits or other types of assistance. They do pay taxes. I think many would apply for citizenship if it were possible to do so.
    Why would giving justice to these people who are seeking to make a better life for themselves and their children (otherwise known as the American Dream) hurt your child in any way?

  3. Very powerful letter and a great example of democracy in action. I hope that the President reads it and that it affects his decision-making.

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