Thursday, April 06, 2006

American Injustice Comes to Ithaca

by Anne Ju
The Ithaca Journal

Federal marshals showed up at Ithaca resident Bruce McDonald's downtown restaurant Wednesday afternoon, escorting him to a federal detention center in Batavia, N.Y., where he awaits deportation to his native Jamaica.

“They put him in a green van with tinted windows, and off they went,” said Marcia Fort, a friend of McDonald's family who said she'd spoken with McDonald's wife, Donya, after McDonald was taken away. Fort is executive director of Greater Ithaca Activities Center.

The 30-year Ithaca resident is being deported on the grounds of pleading guilty in 1999 to felony charges of drug possession — charges that were later reversed following a 2005 trial that acquitted McDonald of the felonies.

“I frankly was disheartened, but not surprised that the appeal was denied,” said Scott Miller, of Ithaca law firm Holmberg, Galbraith, Van Houten & Miller.

McDonald, whose wife and four children are U.S. citizens, first faced deportation proceedings in 1999 following a guilty plea for possession of marijuana and cocaine. His defense attorney at the time, Thomas Kheel, advised him to plead guilty. Shortly thereafter, McDonald said he did not know he would face deportation upon pleading guilty and said he would not have done so if he had known.

In early 2005, Tompkins County Judge John Rowley ordered a trial for McDonald based on the improper guilty plea, Miller explained. Based on a New York State Court of Appeals decision that came down in late 2004, the case was then sent back to Rowley for a ruling.

His indictment reinstated and his guilty pleas vacated, McDonald was tried and acquitted of the felony charges last spring.

While acquitted of the more serious drug charges, McDonald still faced two class B misdemeanor marijuana charges, plus a 1991 charge involving possession of a firearm, according to his lawyers. But those charges were much less serious, Miller said, and he would not have been deported based on just those offenses.

“In a terrible ironic twist, Bruce's immigration hearing, which was the hearing to determine whether in fact he should be deported based on the drug dealing conviction which Rowley had vacated, that hearing was scheduled two weeks before the trial,” Miller explained. A request to adjourn the hearing was denied, and a federal judge ruled that McDonald should be deported.

The immigration judge ordered McDonald deported last summer, according to Sophie Feal, a senior attorney with Buffalo-based Serotte, Reich & Wilson, who has been representing McDonald on his immigration proceedings since 2000. She appealed that deportation order to the Board of Immigration Appeals, but about a month ago, the board issued a decision affirming the judge's order.

“It was made by one member of the Board of Immigration Appeals, and it contains no assessment of the facts in the law,” Feal said.

Immigration officials in Buffalo, where McDonald's case was heard, could not be reached for comment.

Feal said that her firm will no longer be able to represent McDonald pro bono for the next step, which is to appeal the immigration board's decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals. A New York City law firm, Shearman & Sterling LLP, has agreed to take over the case pro bono, Feal said.

A call to the law firm was not returned on Wednesday, but Feal said she expected that a motion to stay — or delay — McDonald's deportation to Jamaica would be filed immediately.

McDonald was taken to the Batavia Federal Detention Facility Wednesday afternoon to await further action from immigrations officials.

Fort described McDonald as a good citizen, a strong provider for his family, and a frequent volunteer at GIAC, where his wife, who is expecting the couple's fifth child in about three weeks, has worked for several years.

“He went to prison, he suffered the consequences of his actions, but since that time he got out, and he did what I think we are supposed to want people to do, which is to turn their lives around and become productive citizens in whatever community they live in, and in the United States,” Fort said. “It is difficult to understand how this could be considered justice.”

Copyright ©2006 The Ithaca Journal


Anonymous Anonymous said...

McDonald was a nasty drug dealer that basically got away with a light 1 year sentence. He was caught with enough maj. and cocaine to put him in prison for 25 years. Instead, he is sentenced to a plea deal for 1 - 3 year - he did 1 1/2. The DA and his defense atty both told him he would not be deported. Second in the twenty (not thirty years) he was in the US why didn't he become legal? Because he was a drug dealer. Stop fighting for drug dealers and start fighting to clean up our streets.

Sunday, February 01, 2009 1:57:00 PM  

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