Deported to the Dominican Republic

January 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

By Cory Bennett

As Ruddy Mirabal remembered it, he had a few hours to kill before a night class in April 2010. So he got in his cousin’s car not knowing where they were going.

When they made a pit stop in Hoboken, N.J., his cousin handed Mirabal something to hold.

It was cocaine. They were quickly arrested by undercover police and Mirabal said he was unknowingly caught up in a drug deal by his cousin.

Nineteen months later, this one night led to a felony cocaine possession conviction and the deportation of Mirabal, 21, back to the Dominican Republic, a country he left behind when he was 8 years old.

For Mirabal, the day was simply a blur.

“Everything was happening so fast and all I could think was, ‘Get me out, get me out, get me out,’” said Mirabal, sitting in the Essex County Correctional Facility, in an interview before his deportation.

As an immigrant without permanent residency, Mirabal’s aggravated felony charge was classified as a “Level 1” offense, resulting in a permanent ban from the United States.

His supporters hoped to reverse the decision citing that he the first student in New York State to earn his high school diploma in jail. But Mirabal was deported on Nov. 15, 2011.

A Supreme Court ruling last year set the precedent for pleas being vacated if immigrants were not properly informed of the possibility of deportation.

“Ineffective assistance of counsel is grounds to reopen a plea,” said Camille Mackler, an immigration attorney who represented Mirabal at his last two deportation hearings.

Mirabal is part of a growing number of immigrants with criminal convictions deported by immigration officials.

In 2008, convicted criminals deported made up just 31 percent of overall deportees. Through July of 2011, convicted criminals composed over half of all deportees. Of these convicted criminals, 26 percent fall into the “Level 1” category, which includes aggravated felonies, major drug offenses, national security crimes and violent crimes.

Mackler isn’t sure how Mirabal came to the attention of immigration authorities, but said there was a good chance it was through the Secure Communities program. The program, in rapid expansion around the country since 2008, directs local law enforcement to pass along the fingerprints of all criminals to the federal government, where the prints are checked with the FBI’s database to determine their owner’s immigration status.

Immigration officials have credited the program for the increase in overall deportations, but Secure Communities been come under fire from organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, as an unlawful form of detention.

But after three video conference immigration hearings in late September and early November, Mirabal got the deportation order. Mackler noted there were no legal grounds to fight the order. Their only hope, she said, was for immigration officials to grant a deferred action. They could exercise discretion and choose not to enforce a deportation order due to a variety of circumstances. For instance, judges have recently granted deferred action for undocumented immigrants attending college in the United States.

But Mirabal’s case was criminal and more complicated.

His cousin — who is a citizen and will eventually be released from jail— wrote a letter in July corroborating Mirabal’s story that he did not know he was holding cocaine.

“[Mirabal] had nothing to do with my dealings,” Tavarez wrote. “I acted alone and brought him along, which was a terrible mistake and I’m paying for it now and he doesn’t deserve this harsh consequence for my action.”

Mirabal’s permanent residency application was pending at the time he pleaded guilty to the charges. But the conviction made him ineligible to stay in the United States.

While in jail, he continued his education. A social worker from his old high school, Iris Kupferstein, approached Mirabal about completing his studies. Kupferstein, who has been a social worker at Manhattan Comprehensive Day and Night School for 10 years, noticed that Mirabal needed only two credits and one Regents test to pass to receive his diploma.

“I wanted him to graduate by June,” she said, so he could walk with the rest of his class in two months.

Previously, inmates had only been able to receive their General Equivalency Degree — a series of five exams to certify high-school level achievement — while incarcerated.

Mirabal got the diploma, but not the walk.

Instead, his case fell into delays and he was soon put into deportation hearings.

On Nov. 13, Mirabal was told to pack his bags and get set for a 3 a.m. departure in two days. He told his mom first.

“It felt like the whole world was coming down,” said his mother, Irma Calderon, using her son, Carlos Manuel, as an interpreter. “I didn’t eat well or sleep well for a while. Oh it’s the worst feeling you could have in your gut.”

Mirabal braced himself to face a country he barely remembered.

“I remember riding a bike down a hill and falling and that’s about it,” Mirabal said of his memories of the Dominican Republic, which he left with his mother and two younger brothers thirteen years ago. His older brother joined the family last year. His father is a U.S. citizen living in Brooklyn.

Mirabal’s story and endearing personality motivated people to lobby on his behalf. He’s often described as earnest, strong and optimistic. The security guard at Essex County Correctional Facility, where he is being held currently, noted, “Ruddy’s got a long visitor list.”

Kupferstein read the phrases written across the backs of some of the 35 letters that Mirabal sent her while incarcerated: “I’ll not fail you or give up. Take Care. Be safe. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Mirabal’s athletic build fills out his green prison suit. He’s a former amateur boxer and claims to have “hops.” He’s gotten three tattoos in jail: his mother’s name across his chest, his initials on his arm and a five-point star with the number three in the middle, representing himself as the third of five brothers. He has a quick smile and holds eye contact describing them.

“My mom was terrified when I first showed her,” he said, laughing. “We’re very honest with each other.”

The New York State Leadership Council, an organization that advocates for access to education for the children of immigrants, circulated a petition and encouraged people to phone Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano regarding Mirabal’s case. Local businessman Daryl Thomas offered Mirabal a job with window supplier Window Master in New York City upon his release. Kupferstein wrote to everyone from local politicians to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor about Mirabal.

“He was so thankful for the opportunity,” Kupferstein said, adding that Mirabal continued to ask for books she recommended after getting his diploma. She ordered two from Amazon for him. “It excited him because he thought he would be out,” she said.

If released, he hoped to attend a New York city college, Mirabal said. To get a jump, he applied to take college courses at Hudson County Correctional Facility after getting his diploma, but was transferred before he could start.

“I’ve always liked math,” Mirabal said, recalling a time where he befuddled a teacher by solving a problem on the board with a different procedure than the one in the book. “It just works in my head. No one else may understand it when I explain it, but it works.”

Before leaving the United States, Mirabal had only vague ideas of his next move. Maybe a college two hours outside of the capital, Santo Domingo, where he could continue his pursuit of a career in computer engineering. He considers himself quite the amateur hacker. But he couldn’t remember the school’s name, isn’t sure what city he would fly in to or even where he would spend his first night.

“The worst part is not knowing what’s going to happen,” he said at the time.

Several weeks after his deportation, he had only answered some of these questions. He was staying with an aunt he had down there, according to his mother. College was out of the question, she said. The Dominican Republic couldn’t offer him financial aid and the tuition was out of his price range. Instead, Mirabal was looking to parlay his dual language skills into a job as a translator.

“He feels bored over there,” Calderon said. “Everything is so different to him.”

She hopes to visit Mirabal next April, she said, to show him a familiar face and deliver the same message that was her parting words to her son before he left.

“Someday, something good will come of this,” she told him. “This isn’t the end. Something good come.”

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