Raised in America, immigrant faces return to strange birthplace

The Associated Press | July 7, 1997


By David Kinney

He sees his life story in the buildings and streets and storefronts of the only place he has called home.

A run-down store he converted into a restaurant where well-heeled lawyers loiter. A downtown office he rebuilt for a judge’s brother after a fire. The houses he restored after years of neglect.

And the street corner where he made a deal that threatens his future.

Charlie Jaramillo – born in Colombia, raised in America – faces deportation for selling $ 40 worth of cocaine eight years ago.

“It’s a death sentence,” said Jaramillo, 32, who has never left the country since immigrating as a toddler. “It’s like being dropped in the desert and being told ‘Find your way.’

“I just don’t have a chance there.”

When tough new immigration laws went into effect, most Americans did not expect that they would ensnare people like Jaramillo – otherwise law-abiding immigrants with limited criminal records, sometimes in the distant past.

But thousands have been trapped.

There is the 31-year-old Manhattanite who emigrated from England as an infant, batted .388 for his college baseball team, went into finance – then sold an ounce of cocaine; the Mexican in Texas arrested twice with a marijuana joint; the 64-year-old alien twice convicted of drunken driving.

“If you use the term ‘criminal alien,’ most people are going to say, ‘You’re right. Let’s throw ’em out of the country.’ But if you look more closely, the answer is not so clear,” said Steven Morley, Jaramillo’s immigration attorney.

Too bad, says Allen Kay, spokesman for Rep. Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who shaped the new laws.

“Do you want to live next door to someone who has been convicted as a drug dealer?” Kay asked. “What the law says is, ‘We’re not going to make citizens of criminals. We’re going to deport them.”‘


Since 1917, laws have allowed the United States to deport criminal aliens. In the past decade, Congress has increased the number of applicable crimes: A law that once covered three offenses in a paragraph now details more than 50 crimes in four pages.

Congress last year also vastly diminished the power of judges to waive deportation in extraordinary cases. And Attorney General Janet Reno ruled that the laws apply retroactively, no matter when a person broke the law.

In the past, immigrants could win a reprieve if they had lived here for a long time, had family ties or had rebuilt their lives. They also received special consideration if they faced oppression in their native lands.

“The bottom line is the immigration courts had discretion to grant the relief and they granted it in a very responsible and some would say miserly fashion,” said Kenneth Schultz, a Manhattan immigration lawyer.

For most criminal aliens, Congress largely took that discretion away.

“We had huge loopholes in this system,” Kay said. “People would play the system to stay in the country as long as possible.”

Immigrants found guilty of aggravated felonies now have no chance of avoiding deportation. Under the new laws, rape and sexual abuse are considered aggravated felonies, as are virtually any drug conviction, including a minor marijuana arrest, any crime of theft or violence that results in a one-year sentence and the transport of prostitutes.

The law could apply, some attorneys speculate, even to turnstile-jumpers or people who fail to report a change of address on time.


Charlie Jaramillo – Carlos, to his friends – is a wiry man who wears the boots of a construction worker and the button-down shirts of an ambitious company director.

He was 24 when a friend asked if he could get him some cocaine. Jaramillo knew a supplier. On a West Chester street corner, he handed over a third of a gram and got two 20s in return.

“I felt like it was a macho thing. I felt like it was a challenge,” he said, repeating an explanation he has given time and again, one he knows falls short. “And after it happened, I paid dearly for it.”

He pleaded guilty, did 200 hours of community service and planned to move on. Then, last August, he went to an INS office to apply for citizenship. He checked the ‘Yes’ box indicating he had been arrested, and INS officers told him he would be deported.

“I kept telling them, ‘I already did my time,”‘ he said.

They cuffed him as his father wept, remembering the tough country where he tried to scratch out a living three decades ago. His angst continued on a visit to Colombia; Jamie Jaramillo had a heart attack as he worried how his son would survive.

Whatever the truth, the government and the average Colombian would still consider him a drug trafficker. And without a college degree, Jaramillo would struggle to find a well-paying job – just like his father before him.

“There’s not a lazy bone to be found in the Jaramillo family,” said Stan Zukin, who owned a local drugstore and gave Jaramillo his first job, when he was 12 years old. “I mean, this guy works better than any four people around.”

Legal bills have sent Jaramillo, his wife and their two teen-age children back into his parents’ home in nearby West Goshen. He knows that if he is deported, he will make his next move alone.

“She just can’t pick up and go with two kids who don’t speak Spanish,” said Jaramillo’s older sister, Dorris.

Since his arrest, Jaramillo has stayed clear of the law. Perhaps the most telling example of his rehabilitation: The brother of the judge who sentenced Jaramillo hired him to rebuild his office after a fire.

Later, the brother, William Wood, wrote a letter of support: “I believe he would be a good citizen of the United States, if given the opportunity.”

Morley expects to lose in immigration court and before an INS appeals board. Under the law, Jaramillo can be deported immediately afterward, even if he challenges the ruling in federal court. Meanwhile, he is seeking a pardon from Gov. Tom Ridge.

Jaramillo has no argument with those who think criminals should be thrown out of the country. His only complaint is that the law is reaching back into a past he thought he had long since buried, a crime for which, he thought, he had paid.

“If I’d known, I would have never taken the plea bargain,” he said. “I would have fought it.”