INS Law: Hurting The Innocent?

The African village of Asmara, which is in the country of Eritrea, is almost as frightening and foreign to Julia Parker of suburban New Jersey as it is to most Americans.

"I didn't even know Eritrea existed until they told me that was where I was from," says Parker.

CBS News Correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports that she could end up back there even though she was adopted by Americans and raised an all-American girl. Because of a paperwork foul-up, technically she’s not American. But before she learned that, she voted in an American election.

"When I turned 18, I voted because I thought that was my civic duty," she says.

But the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) told her that is a felony.

"Suddenly this government that I've bragged about and compared to other governments is telling me they might not want me and that I may have to leave," Parker says.

Under a four-year-old, "get tough" immigration law, Parker could be deported for voting. The law was supposed to weed out dangerous criminals. It has ended up punishing both high crimes and misunderstandings.

"The problem here is the law. That's what needs to be changed,"says Frank Sharry, who has been lobbying Congress to loosen up the law.

Sharry says that when someone makes an innocent mistake and is then subject to being thrown out of the country, that is excessive.

"I'm concerned about maintaining the integrity of the electoral process, and there have been reports of non-citizens voting in elections," says U.S. Rep. Charles Canady, R-Fla., who sponsored the voting measure.

But even Canady believes it would be wrong to punish people like Parker.

He says, "If there's something in the law that would bar her permanently from becoming a citizen because of an innocent act, I think that is wrong and should be changed."

Canady believes the INS can simply decide to overlook innocent mistakes. The INS agrees but isn't overlooking Parker’s case. She's still in limbo, not a citizen and technically facing deportation.

However, the immigration service told CBS News it supports changing the deportation law and said it plans to use more discretion so that Parker and others like her are not deported for making honest mistakes.



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