A Silicon Valley tech worker recently was placed on a deportation list due to a more than two-decade conviction on a felony drug charge.
The incident occurred when John, who wants his identity hidden, flew into San Francisco International Airport from Europe with his family. His green card was not good enough for the customs agent.
"They detained me for six hours," John said. "I was frightened."
John previously served six months for his conviction and had his record expunged. But that did not matter to the feds.
"An expungement or a record clearance would be good in state court," legal analyst Steven Clark said. "But its of very little value in the federal system."
Clark also is an attorney who has represented several clients with similar dilemmas: legal residents who broke the law years ago, paid their debt to society and now face having their green cards revoked.
"They are caught up in the labyrinth of these new ICE procedures," Clark said.
Immigrants are now asking district attorneys and judges to modify their sentences. That is possible if their lawyer did not properly advise them of the immigration consequences of pleading guilty to a crime.
John said for now he is throwing himself on the mercy of the court.
"It still is a fearful thing for me," he said. "My kids are in college. We just had our 21-year anniversary."
Santa Clara County Assistant District Attorney David Angel provided the following statement Thursday:
"Record clearances and other statutory remedies can play a vital role in rehabilitation and public safety, and as such we are always interested in community efforts to ensure that everyone who is entitled to such relief can get it. We remain concerned that, like many areas of our criminal justice system, too often we find that while the middle class avails themselves of these benefits others are not empowered to do so. As such, we are working with community groups to ensure sufficient outreach and assistance so that all members of our community, including immigrants, have equal access to justice."