The Drug Lab Scandal and Deportation. Will there be impact?
BOSTON — Immigrant advocates fear implications from the evidence tainting scandal at a Massachusetts state lab that tested drug samples can be far reaching, as some of the individuals affected may consequently be in deportation proceedings or been already deported.
State officials say Chemist Annie Dookhan — who has been accused of faking drug test results at the now closed Hinton State Laboratory — analyzed more than 60,000 drug samples collected from more than 34,000 defendants over nearly a decade she worked at the lab.
Her arrest has already led to the release of nearly 200 inmates, who have seen their cases put on hold.
While the drug lab scandal has impacted thousands of criminal defendants throughout the Commonwealth, Helena DaSilva Hughes, executive director for the Immigrants’ Assistance Center (IAC) in New Bedford, said it has likely resulted in the detention and deportation of numerous legal permanent residents.
“This is a huge issue. I am pretty sure there were some cases that the individuals were deported and unfortunately there was some tampering involved,” she told O Jornal. “We’re also going into the [Bristol County] House of Corrections to see if there any drug related cases that we can stop the deportation proceedings. These would be a lot easier for us to help than the ones who have already been deported.”
A recent study conducted by Alzira Silva, the former Director for the Azorean Communities, revealed that about 900 Portuguese nationals were deported from the United States to the Azores since the late 1980s. Many of them were charged with offenses related to drug abuse, and resided in Massachusetts, reflecting the large Portuguese population in the state.
Over the last two decades, the IAC has provided daily outreach at the Bristol County House of Corrections to inmates who are legal permanent residents and are facing deportation under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA), passed in 1996. The center also collaborates with the Azores and Cape Verde to transmit information regarding deportees and exchange information regarding health and social issues. The IAC also provides support and social services to their families.
“We feel there are some cases whose drug tests were tampered with and it’s one of our priorities right now,” said Hughes. “We’re trying to look at the cases we’ve helped in the last eight years to see if we find anything. We’ve worked with more than 1,000 cases since 1998, and we only have access to the Bristol County jail. There’s got to be cases in Plymouth and Suffolk County.”
To deal with the fallout of the lab scandal, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick ordered a file by file review of every case handled by Dookhan and appointed former state prosecutor David Meier to identify cases the chemist worked on.
Among the first 1,140 inmates identified by Meier, 22 may be the subject of ongoing deportation or related immigration proceedings, according to a letter he sent to defense attorneys and district attorneys.
According to Meier, it would be up to the lawyers involved and the courts to determine whether convictions should be thrown out or sentences reduced.
New Bedford Immigration Attorney Frederick Q. Watt said this is something that families possibly affected by deportation need to be aware of.
“Several cases have come up in Immigration Court,” he said. “Normally, the judges won’t continue a case so that you can do an attack on the original conviction. But if someone has one of those cases and wants to challenge the conviction, they are giving a lot more leeway because they are so wide spread.”
Personally, Atty. Watt has not dealt with any of these cases.
“Nothing has come to my attention yet, but there have to be cases because she [Dookhan] was there for several years. If anybody has a loved one who had been deported on just a drug case its definitely worth looking into.”
Since drug convictions are the most common crimes that cause non-citizens to be deported, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services Immigration Impact Unit has also issued a statement warning about immigration consequences of the drug lab scandal.
“Anything more than simple possession of drugs, including marijuana, is considered an aggravated felony. Aggravated felonies cause virtually mandatory deportation, even for long-term legal permanent residents. The devastating impact of drug convictions on non-citizens (both lawful and those without lawful status) is impossible to overstate,” the statement reads.
Meanwhile, the Immigrants’ Assistance Center is encouraging anyone who has been affected by deportation due to the lab scandal to contact the center at 508-996-8113.
“We’ll see what we can do. I know it’s a long shot, but at the same time we’re optimistic,” said Hughes.