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Even a minor conviction could mean life or death for an immigrant

Immigration Services

"During the Obama administration they weren't deporting anyone who wasn't a violent criminal," says Louisville immigration attorney Dennis Clare. "Now, any crime...could be a matter of life or death. They could be deported."

Clare was discussing the case of South Sudanese refugee Francis Ladege, who was recently deported based on two nonviolent marijuana offenses. Ladege and his half-brother Charles first came to Louisville in 1999 to live with their grandparents. They graduated from Atherton High School and Francis was attending college in Missouri. He became a lawful permanent resident in 2003.

Unfortunately, a green card does not protect immigrants from deportation if they are convicted of certain crimes, including marijuana offenses. In 2013, Ladege was arrested for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and placed on probation. In 2014, he was apparently caught with 5 grams of marijuana -- which would typically be a misdemeanor but was charged as a felony.

In 2016, an immigration judge issued a removal order. Ladege spent the next two years transferred to various ICE detention centers around the country. During that time, one of his college teachers and other supporters fought with letters, fundraisers and legal motions to stop the deportation machine that had come for their friend.

Recently, his lawyer had filed a federal habeas corpus petition in a last-ditch effort to prevent Ladege's deportation. Then, in the middle of the night, ICE told Ladege to change out his prison jumpsuit for street clothes because he was going on a long flight.

"Francis was the sunshine in the room," his teacher said, shocked that Ladege could be sent back to South Sudan, where conditions are so difficult.

Ladege was among approximately 42,000 Sudanese people in the U.S. Many of them are from South Sudan, where only about 50 percent of the population has access to treated water and over five million people are subject to famine. Ladege's family has fled the country, so he had no one to receive him when he was deported. He has said he fears for his life in South Sudan.

While Ladege's situation is tragic, this is a much bigger issue than the deportation of a single person. According to immigration lawyer Dennis Clare, the Trump administration exhibits a disregard for proper legal procedures that he hasn't seen in 40 years of representing immigrants.

According to ICE data, the number of arrests that led to deportation rose from 27 percent in 2016 to 36 percent last year.

"They are now vulnerable for any minor crime," Clare said. "I've had clients arrested as they were walking down the streets or they've been turned over to ICE for having tinted windows."

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