Corinne Ramey

ICE Deports High School Valedictorian

I've written about U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials' schoolyard antics before, but the recent news that ICE is planning to deport a California high school valedictorian just affirms my view that these immigration authorities need to get out of the schools. From the San Francisco Chronicle:
The valedictorian at Fresno's Bullard High School won't be attending college in the United States this fall because he's scheduled to be deported.

Seventeen-year-old Arthur Mkoyan's 4.0 grade-point average qualified him to enter one of the state's top universities. But he and his mother have been ordered back to Armenia after their last appeal for asylum failed. The family fled from what used to be part of the Soviet Union and has been seeking asylum since 1992.

But, rest assured, ICE shows its nice side once in a while (and if it's not clear, I'm being sarcastic here). As a sort of consolation prize, ICE decided to let Arthur stick around for graduation. According to the article, "A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement says they were given an extension until June 20 so Mkoyan could attend his graduation ceremony."

This past October, the Senate tried to help out students like Arthur, but to no avail. Legislation called the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act -- better know as the DREAM Act -- was introduced in the Senate, but failed a procedural vote. The legislation would have allowed Arthur and approximately 65,000 other undocumented students a path to citizenship and the opportunity for a college education. But unfortunately for Arthur, the legislation failed.

Arthur's story and that of the DREAM Act are just two examples of what amounts to an utterly inconsistent immigration policy. Whether ICE wants to admit it or not, undocumented immigrants are here to stay, and an enforcement-only policy that consists of random deportations just isn't going to cut it. According to a recently-released report by the Public Policy Institute of California, Immigrant Pathways to Legal Permanent Residence: Now and Under a Merit-Based System, more than half of the immigrants in California who have legal permanent resident status were at some point undocumented. This number is 42% for the U.S. as a whole. These immigrants -- both documented and undocumented -- are a vital part of the nation's economy and the fabric of our nation. Deporting smart students like Arthur -- especially considering that such a huge percentage of immigrants eventually receive legal status -- is not only bad for the immigrant community, but for the nation as a whole.

For a slightly happier immigration story, check out this video of DMI scholar and Mexican immigrant Samantha Contreras. Samantha was undocumented when she graduated from high school, and soon realized the hardships associated with being undocumented.. "I learned the reality of my immigration status," she said. "I couldn't work, I couldn't go to college, I couldn't drive, I couldn't even get a Blockbuster membership card." Unlike Arthur's story, Samantha's has a happy ending -- an immigrant rights group helped her to enroll in college, and now she strives for a career in public policy.

How Do You Atone for 27 Years of Injust Inprisonment?

On Thursday, after spending 27 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit, Charles Chatman walked free. The world -- or the world outside of jail, that is -- was a different place than that he had left nearly three decades ago. After only using spoons in prison, he had to relearn how to use a knife to cut his steak. The judge for his case even had to teach him how to use a cell phone -- a newfangled technology, for 47-year-old Chatman -- so he could call his family. Chatman is the 15th wrongfully convicted prisoner in Dallas County who has been exonerated by DNA evidence since 2001.

Chatman's story is one of those tug-on-your-heartstrings tales of a man whose life spun out of his control. When he was 20, he was convicted of raping a young women who lived five houses down the street. The women, who was in her 20s, picked Chatman from a police lineup. Serology tests further validated her claim, showing that Chatman's blood type matched that found at the crime scene, despite the fact that the blood type also matched that of 40% of black males. Chatman was convicted of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to 99 years in prison based on a police lineup, unreliable blood evidence, and a jury that had only one black member. "I was convicted because a black man committed a crime against a white woman," Chatman said, as quoted in the Associated Press. "And I was available." Chatman had been working at the time of the crime -- a claim supported by his sister, who was his then-employer -- but the alibi didn't seem to matter.

During those 27 long years in prison, Chatman did have three chances at parole. The parole board always pressed him to confess, and when Chatman refused fabricate a story of his crime, the board refused to let him out. "Every time I'd go to parole, they'd want a description of the crime or my version of the crime," said Chatman. "I don't have a version of the crime. I never committed the crime. I never will admit to doing this crime that I know I didn't do."

Last year, when Chatman applied for DNA testing, he was told it would be risky. There was only one DNA sample available from the crime -- a small amount of DNA on a vaginal swab from the victim. Despite the fact that the single test would use all available DNA evidence and rule out the possibility of further tests, said his lawyer, Dallas County public defender Michelle Moore, Chatman decided to go ahead with the procedure. The DNA test showed that the rape had been committed by another man, and Chatman joyfully left the cell that had been his home for nearly three decades.

Chatman's exoneration, and the exoneration of other wrongfully convicted Dallas County prisoners, are largely the results of the the work of Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins and the Innocence Project. Since Watkins' election as the first African-American DA in Texas, he has worked to both reform the criminal justice system's methods of convicting criminals, and has utilized saved DNA in the Southwest Institute of Forensic Sciences, a Dallas County laboratory, to overturn cases of wrongful convictions. The Times reports that Watkins' office, working with the Innocence Project, has reviewed 80 claims of wrongful conviction.


Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.