Crack down on criminal aliens

Posted: May 10, 2002 12:00 AM
Attorney General John Ashcroft is making sense. This week, he ordered the deportation of a Haitian nanny who was convicted of second-degree manslaughter in the beating death of a 19-month-old boy in 1995. Ashcroft's decision reverses a bleeding-heart ruling by three Janet Reno-appointed members of the obscure Board of Immigration Appeals. "Aliens arriving at our shores must understand that residency in the United States is a privilege, not a right," Ashcroft wrote. "For those aliens . . . who engage in violent criminal acts during their stay here, this country will not offer its embrace." The case involves Melanie Jeanbeaucejour, whose monstrous crime was detailed in this column in January. She admitted pummeling and shaking the young victim in her care after he fell off a sofa and wouldn't stop crying. After serving two years of a light six-year sentence for the death of the innocent baby -- who died of brutal blunt trauma to the head, chest and abdomen -- Jeanbeaucejour was freed. After her release, the Immigration and Naturalization Service argued that as a convicted criminal alien resident, Jeanbeaucejour should be returned to her native Haiti. INS won a deportation order from a federal judge. But Jeanbeaucejour claimed her deportation would cause "hardship" on her husband and her own five children. She obtained a reprieve from the Board of Immigration Appeals, a little-known federal bureaucracy of judges who are independent of INS and have the power to overturn deportation orders nationwide. Board members Cecelia Espenoza, former professor at St. Mary's University Law School in San Antonio, Gustavo Villageliu, a former immigration judge in Miami, and Lory D. Rosenberg, former lecturer at Washington College of Law at American University, concluded that Jeanbeaucejour's crime did "not constitute a crime of violence" and was not an aggravated felony subject to deportation guidelines. "The opinion marginalizes the depravity of her criminal offense," Ashcroft noted after reviewing the case. "Little or no significance appears to have been attached to the fact that the respondent confessed to beating and shaking a 19-month-old child to death." Ashcroft's intervention in the case was unusual. The outrage is that the Board of Immigration Appeals continues to operate largely unscrutinized and unaccountable. The board's 20-odd members, based in Falls Church, Va., are politically appointed bureaucrats who have extraordinary power to shape immigration policy in favor of criminal aliens. The majority of the board's decisions are unpublished. For every Jeanbeaucejour who loses, there are untold numbers of criminal aliens who have gamed the Byzantine immigration court system successfully. Among the criminal alien appellants who have prevailed in published BIA decisions are repeat drunk drivers, sexual abusers, burglars, drug offenders, and other aggravated felons who escaped deportation on convoluted technicalities. (For more details, visit, an invaluable Web site run by an anonymous whistleblower inside the Justice Department who monitors the BIA and its administrative overseer, the Executive Office for Immigration Review.) The panel -- comprised largely of activists from immigration-law circles and lifetime government officials -- receives more than 30,000 appeals every year, and has a backlog of 56,000 cases. Those who lose their appeals can seek relief in the federal circuit courts of appeal and take their cases up to the U.S. Supreme Court. The system is a boon for trial lawyers and their criminal clients, and a nightmare for immigration law enforcement. While much attention has been paid to reforming the INS, improving the visa screening and approval process, and beefing up our borders, Congress continues to ignore the soft-on-alien-crime Board of Immigration Appeals and its critical role in clogging up the deportation process. Ashcroft shouldn't be forced to spend his time undoing this superfluous board's idiotic -- and treacherous -- rulings one by one. The board should be abolished. The last thing we need as we wage our war on terrorism are entrenched, unelected sympathizers in the courts who put alien rights over American lives.