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The patriot ax
Through vigorous enforcement of older immigration laws, the US is kicking out permanent residents for offenses like smoking pot and driving without a license

His thick Massachusetts accent, and slight and muscular build, might give Markus Young away as your typical South Shore tough. He grew up down the street from the beach, attended Hull High School, spent a few semesters at Quincy Junior College, and after 20 years working as a plumber, he’s going back to school for official certification so he can start his own plumbing business with a childhood friend. For the past 36 years of his life, he’s lived in Hull and Quincy.

But if the US government has its way, Young, 39, may soon be kicked out of the United States and sent back to Germany — a country he hasn’t lived in since he was three years old.

Young is no babe in the woods. In fact, he’s made several mistakes — he’s gotten caught possessing small amounts of marijuana (more than once); he’s also been nabbed for driving under the influence of Valium, and driving without a license. They’re relatively minor infractions, perhaps typical of a guy still trying to find his way in the world. Or, as his father puts it, "Mark is thoroughly a product of America, reflecting its virtues and, unfortunately, some of its faults." But in 2004, the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bureau compounded Young’s relatively minor convictions — which, taken individually, aren’t felonies — into an "aggravated felony," or a deportable offense. And as a result, Young has spent the past 371 days sleeping in a gymnasium alongside 63 other immigrant detainees inside the Bristol County Jail.

Already-strict immigration laws, combined with more-energetic enforcement and increased funding in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, leave many permanent residents like Young — people who have green cards, jobs, and families here in the United States — fighting grave consequences for minor crimes. All in the name of combating terrorism.


Markus Young was born in Germany, to Edith Baumann, a German citizen, and an American soldier who was briefly stationed there. Shortly before Markus was born, the soldier rotated back to Fort Riley, Kansas. Edith and her children never heard from him again.

Later, Edith married Rod Young — another American soldier— who adopted Markus and his siblings. Young was three years old when his new father brought the whole family back to the United States. They have lived in the second story of a two-family house in Hull ever since.

It was there that, in hindsight, Young made his biggest mistake. Although his siblings chose to become naturalized US citizens — mainly because they wanted to join the armed forces — Young, for whom military life held little appeal, chose instead to retain his status as a permanent resident with a green card, like his German-born mother.

Why? His father hypothesizes that his son thought European citizenship might earn him points with women. Indeed, when Young describes his youth, that’s not hard to believe. "I guess you could say I was a ladies’ kind of guy," he says with a laugh. When his two best friends from the block were too shy to approach women on the beach, Young would often chat up not one but three girls at a time. Being German was something exotic.

But beach life soon went awry, and Young fell in with what he calls "the wrong type of people."

He paid for his mistakes with a short stay in Plymouth County Jail for driving without a license and simple marijuana possession. It was near the end of that sentence when ICE agents — who routinely sift through criminal records at county jails, looking for convictions that constitute aggravated felonies within immigration law — picked him up.

That was August 20, 2004. The soft-spoken plumber has been in the Bristol County Jail gym ever since. He is one of 750 individuals — most of whom are Hispanic or Middle Eastern — currently in the custody of ICE’s Boston Field Office, which has jurisdiction over New England. Each of these detainees costs the government about $90 a day, according to Michael Gilhooly, ICE’s director of public affairs for the region.

Rod Young calls it "a national game of ‘Gotcha,’" in which ICE, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) armed with a sizeable budget and favorable public opinion, prosecutes immigrants indiscriminately, lumping drug traffickers with mere shoplifters under the same aggravated-felony provision.

The policy, introduced as part of the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, was originally conceived to address major drug crimes perpetrated by noncitizens. For the most part, aggravated felonies combated murder or drug-and-weapon trading. But 1996’s Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IRAIRA) expanded the list to include drastically less-significant crimes, including those for which offenders serve just one year or less in jail. While the measure initially targeted undocumented immigrants, advocates say that since 9/11, an increasing number of legal residents like Young have gotten pulled under along the way. (It’s difficult to say how much those numbers have really changed, since all aliens who have been in the country for more than one year are included in the same category. They make up about 25 percent of all deportations.)

"ICE is using all these types of tactics in the name of homeland security," says Paromita Shah, director of the Boston-based National Immigration Project. "I think there’s been a handful of arrests that are related to terrorism. It’s outrageous. They’re focusing on people with very minor criminal convictions."

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Issue Date: August 26 - September 1, 2005
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