Veteran Tells Story to Politico: American Dream Ends in Deportation

Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014 11:13 AM

By Joe Battaglia

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Howard Dean Bailey was living the American dream.

After legally immigrating to the United States from Jamaica as a teenager, he graduated from high school in Brooklyn, N.Y., served four years in the U.S. Navy during the Persian Gulf War, married his college sweetheart, started a family, bought a house, and started a budding trucking business.

But his world came crashing down four years ago when 11 armed immigration officers and Virginia state troopers banged on his door at dawn one morning and took him away in shackles, as his wife and daughter watched in horror.

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Five years earlier, Bailey had applied for U.S. citizenship. In filling out his application honestly, he admitted to "a stupid mistake" he had made a long time ago. That mistake was being arrested and pleading guilty to a drug charge that disqualified his citizenship.

Bailey has been deported to Jamaica, where he is now alone and struggling to survive as a pig farmer. His wife, Judith, is moving on without him. His home in Chesapeake and business are lost. And the lives of his teenage son, Demique, and daughter, Jada, both thriving students when the family was together, are in shambles.

A victim of drug and immigration laws gone too far, Bailey is powerless to help his family in a situation the 41-year-old says, "Makes me want to die."

"It’s still so hard for me to understand how I wound up here," Bailey wrote in Politico Magazine. "I served in the United States Navy with pride and honor; I am a husband and father; I was a business owner and a homeowner. I made a mistake, but that was 19 years ago, and I never made another."

Bailey's mistake was a conviction, in 1995, for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. He says he was duped by a Jamaican friend at the Navy yard into accepting two packages from New York. The packages came from California and were packed with marijuana.

Bailey – he says "I had never smoked marijuana — still haven’t to this day. I don’t do drugs and rarely drink – never saw his "friend" again.

The lawyer Bailey hired urged him to take a plea deal, admitting to the felony charge, rather than go to trial and risk a harsher sentence. According to Bailey, "the judge was compassionate," but told him Virginia's strict anti-drug laws tied his hands and that he must serve a mandatory 15 months in a state work camp.

Similarly, the judge was helpless to intercede on Bailey's behalf once he was detained under American immigration laws passed by Congress in the 1980s and 1990s, expanding the list of offenses for which legal immigrants were automatically disqualified from citizenship and subject to deportation — particularly for drug offenses.

According to the National Immigrant Justice Center,  laws on the books require "the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, to keep a minimum of 33,400 immigrants locked up, awaiting deportation, at any given time."

"The judge’s hands were tied," Bailey wrote. "He couldn’t take into account the fact that my conviction was for a nonviolent crime many years earlier, that I had never had another brush with the law, or that I was a father to two U.S. citizens, a veteran, and a husband who owned a home and a business."

As a result, Bailey spent two years in a detention center under harsh and dehumanizing conditions. He was shackled during transport from facilities in Virginia, New Mexico, Arizona, and Louisiana. Once, he was prevented from using the restroom on the plane until he began urinating on himself.

In May 2012, Bailey was deported to Jamaica, a country he hadn't stepped foot in since he was 17, gaunt, penniless, and knowing no one. He wonders incredulously how his life has come to this.

"In a country where marijuana laws are changing every day, where marijuana is now legal in two states, how could my one accidental encounter with someone else’s drug deal have destroyed my family?" Bailey wrote. "I hear [politicians] talk about America’s duty to our veterans and about the need for a 'humane' immigration system and about family values. Then I see them pass laws that tear families like mine apart and force people to lose their humanity."

Bailey feels victimized by the enforcement "priorities" of the Obama administration, whose stated approach to deportations was been to go after "criminals, gang bangers, people who are hurting the community" rather than "folks who are here just because they’re trying to figure out how to feed their families."

"I've never been a danger to my community, and I've never wanted anything more than to be a good father and provider," Bailey wrote, adding that he and others like him "deserve at least a chance to ask a judge to let us stay with our families in the country we call home."

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