Innovation Showcase 2014 / Illegal Immigration

A legal resident fights deportation for a minor crime

Andrea HilbertLea Scruggs

RolandStillThe deportation of illegal immigrants is a topic that is well covered by the press and debated by the public. This video tells a story that is much less widely understood: How legal immigrants are being deported for minor crimes they committed years earlier.

In 2011, as Haitian-born Roland Sylvain returned from a Caribbean cruise with his wife, he was stopped by immigration authorities in Tampa. They confiscated his green card, and told him he would need to appear in immigration court. By travelling outside the country, the longtime legal resident had unwittingly triggered his own deportation proceedings.

The case against Sylvain is based on a criminal conviction he incurred 13 years ago, after being pulled over for speeding in Virginia. Sylvain, who was driving on a suspended license, panicked and signed the name of his cousin on the tickets. He immediately regretted what he had done, and confessed to the police officer. He pled guilty to forging a public document and was given a suspended sentence, which meant no prison time.

Under immigration law, Sylvain’s crime may be classified as an “aggravated felony” – which carries the consequence of virtually mandatory deportation. The fact that he has lived in this country legally since he was seven, that his wife and children and parents are all U.S. citizens, that he is the sole financial support for his family – none of these circumstances can be taken into account. This story follows Sylvain as he faces his latest immigration hearing, and explains how he and others like him find themselves in this situation.