Mario Faces Deportation
When Armando Baptiste walked into Dorchester District Court last summer, he was hoping to settle accounts with the law and get on with his life. Indeed, not eager to draw attention to his less-than-proud past, he and the Boston youth workers who convinced him to face up to an outstanding assault charge asked that we not use his real name when we told Baptiste’s story in CommonWealth (“The Street Ministers,” Fall 1999). But “Mario,” as we called him in the cover story on Boston’s nationally acclaimed crime-prevention efforts, has now become the poster boy for a different cause.
Despite perfect compliance with the strict terms of his probation–and rising before dawn each day to work a construction job–Baptiste, 25, was arrested in February by federal authorities and now faces deportation to his native Cape Verde. As the result of a 1996 revision, US immigration law requires the deportation of non-citizens with past convictions for a wide range of crimes. The law now offers immigration judges no authority to waive deportation of those who appear to have gone straight.
For the Rev. Filipe Teixeira, the 33-year-old priest who convinced Baptiste to turn himself in, the case could undermine all of his efforts to convince young people in Boston’s large Cape Verdean community to do the right thing. “It’s going to give the message to the kids that there is no hope, [that] no matter what they do they will be deported,” says Teixeira.
“Under the guise of saying we want to make the community safer from immigrants who are a danger, in Armando’s case you actually took someone away who was an asset to the community,” says Larry Mayes, an outreach worker from the Ella J. Baker settlement house in Dorchester who appeared in court with Baptiste last summer.
Efforts are underway in Congress to amend the 1996 law to allow immigration judges more discretion, and Immigration and Naturalization Service officials themselves appear to support such a move. But any such changes will likely come too late for Baptiste, whose deportation case could be decided in the next few months.
After being held for two-and-a-half weeks in a federal detention center in Batavia, NY, Baptiste was released in March on $7,500 bail, money put up by donors who read of his plight in Massachusetts newspapers. That means his immigration case can now be heard in Boston, instead of upstate New York. “It’s a step in the right direction,” says Harvey Kaplan, an immigration lawyer handling Baptiste’s case pro bono. “We’ve got a ways to go.”
One strategy that Kaplan is considering is trying to have some of Baptiste’s past convictions vacated in state court before his immigration hearing.
Meanwhile, many of those at the heart of Boston’s successful anti-crime effort–built on open lines of communication and cooperation among community groups, courts, and police–say the immigration law needs to be revisited. “We made the laws; they’re not written in stone,” says Bill Stewart, assistant chief of probation at the Dorchester court. “This kid comes in, he listens, he goes right by the numbers. I’d say he’s a good bet.”Those who posted Baptiste’s bail money seem to think so as well. “One lady on the Cape sent $500. A group of retired priests sent a couple of thousand,” says Mayes. “It was pretty amazing.”
“I’ve never had people do anything like that for me before,” says Baptiste.