To err is to be human. To err and be an immigrant is double jeopardy. Qing Wu, a confused 15-year-old who immigrated from China to the U.S. at age 5, hung out with the wrong crowd, got in trouble with the law and ultimately paid his dues spending three years of his youth in detention. Qing obtained his GED while in custody, went on to graduate from college, secured a good job with an IT company and is now engaged to be married. So why doesn't this story end on a happy note?
Qing, now 29 years old, is being forced by federal immigration authorities to leave the country for crimes he committed more than a decade ago. Qing's situation is similar to many immigrants who are lawful permanent residents now leading a fully productive life in the U.S., but once had a distant tainted past. Controversial federal immigration laws make it mandatory for Qing to be removed from the U.S. despite the fact he's paid for his earlier mistakes and is now a contributing member of society. Immigrant teenagers are no different than American born teenagers. Low income teenagers, who are unsupervised, insecure, and eager to be accepted, are more at risk of making the wrong friends and getting in trouble with the law. Qing had a series of run-ins with the law over a very short period of four months before being sent to detention. This pattern is common among teenagers who think they are invincible until their freedom is taken away. When they hit rock bottom, it's their choice to grow up and rehabilitate themselves or continue down a destructive path. Qing made the right decision to rehabilitate himself. Remorseful, he pled guilty to his offenses and served his time.
Now what is his recourse? At the time Qing was sentenced in 1996, the criminal judge presiding over his case did not give Qing youthful offender status, a status that is often given by a criminal judge based on his or her discretion. This status allows a minor to have a clear record provided the minor pleads guilty and serves time. This special status is society's recognition that young people make mistakes that should not ruin their lives forever.
The courts have the power and will be more inclined to grant Qing retroactive youthful offender status if the District Attorney acts favorably on Qing's case. Immigration will then stop trying to remove Qing from the U.S. In making this decision, the D.A., an elected leader, must weight the benefits to society of granting him youthful offender status vs. ensuring our penal system is not undermined. Clearly, the tremendous effort that Qing has made to become a productive member of society is evident. Qing has not lived in China since he was five years old. He cannot speak Chinese fluently or read Chinese. To forcibly separate him from his mother and fiancé will destroy many lives. Nor is the criminal justice system undermined. His detention led to his successful rehabilitation and the goal of a good penal system is to rehabilitate. His three years in juvenile detention turned him around. He earned his GED while in detention, later graduated from college, earned a good job and is now helping his widowed mother and is engaged to be married.
While unfair immigration laws have taken away discretion from immigration judges, I have faith the criminal justice system will work here. Unlike immigration judges, the District Attorney has to power to exercise his discretion and achieve a just result in this situation. Anyone who has made a mistake and has demonstrated he has changed needs the support of society to continue on a productive path. We can show our support for Qing by contacting the Manhattan D.A.'s office at 212-335-9000 or at One Hogan Place; New York, NY 10013, urging him to grant Qing retroactive youthful offender status. Time is of the essence.
For more info about this case, contact Anna-Ng -firstname.lastname@example.org or myself at email@example.com.