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An arbitrary deportation campaign
Miami Herald
April 4, 2004

So this is the new America. Our government wants to deport an Oregon woman who was convicted 11 years ago of growing six marijuana plants.

Kari Rein, a Norwegian citizen, had never been in trouble before, and hadn't been in trouble since. That changed Dec. 30.

She, her husband and two children were returning from a vacation to Norway when she was questioned at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport by officers of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

They had run Rein's name through a computer and found the old marijuana conviction. They asked her to step into a private room.

"And that," says her husband, James Jungwirth, "was the last time we saw her for three weeks."

Kari Rein was locked up, and deportation proceedings were initiated. Her family was in shock.

Rein is 42. She has lived here, legally, with a green card, for 15 years. Her husband is a U.S. citizen, and both children -- daughter Inka, 14, and son Arek, 7 -- were born here.

Rein and Jungwirth own a seaweed harvesting business in the rural Oregon community of Williams, which has rallied behind them. Tony Green of The Portland Oregonian wrote about the case, and the newspaper editorialized on Rein's behalf, calling her treatment "cruel and wholly unnecessary." But because she's a foreign national convicted of a drug offense -- no matter how minor, no matter how long ago -- she is retroactively eligible to be kicked out of the country.

Immigration rules were toughened during the 1990s, but the heavy crackdown has come in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Not since World War II has the United States launched such an ambitious and arbitrary deportation campaign.

A fine and community service

"Trying to combat terrorism, I certainly understand. But this is ridiculous," says Rein's attorney, David N. Shomloo, who was born in Iran and is now a naturalized U.S. citizen.

At first, Shomloo said, Rein was detained as a "trafficker," even though the sentencing judge in 1993 stated that the marijuana plants were obviously for personal use.

Rein and her husband called it "the biggest mistake of their lives." The judge placed them on probation, fined them $1,200 and ordered them to perform 240 hours of community service.

The judge added: "I'm also satisfied that the two of you are people who are capable of being productive and are being productive in society, and I don't think at this point that jail really serves any benefit to anyone."

The geniuses at the Department of Homeland Security either didn't bother to read the court file, or chose to ignore it. They decided Kari Rein was a threat.

Public outcry

For three weeks, she was locked up until bail was granted. "It was unbelievable," she says. "They did not give out very much information. They tried to avoid my questions."

Back home, her children "were very terrified," she says, "especially the little one."

When Rein finally was released, the town of Williams staged a benefit concert and raised more than $4,000 for her legal defense.

Despite the public outcry, the government is ludicrously pursuing its efforts to expel her. Officials insist that the marijuana rap is "an aggravated felony," although a U.S. appellate court recently ruled that personal possession of small amounts was not.

"I try not to be angry," Rein says. "What I feel more is disappointment and sadness."

An immigration judge will hear the case next month. Even if he rules in Rein's favor, the government may appeal. And even if she wins the appeal, it may be summarily overruled by Attorney General John Ashcroft, who has done wackier things.

Rein and her family are bracing for a long fight. Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski could pardon her for the marijuana conviction, but there's still no guarantee that the government would back off.

"If we lose," says Jungwirth, "we're going to have to sell everything we own and move to Norway."

The children have never lived anywhere but Oregon, and Rein dreads the prospect of uprooting them. "I hope it doesn't come to that," she says.

It is a bizarre and harrowing time in the new America. Our president defends Rush Limbaugh, a serial narcotic scammer and pillhead, as "a great American."

Meanwhile, the full might of law enforcement is aimed at deporting someone whose only crime is keeping half a dozen pot plants, more than a decade ago. Perhaps if Rein had her own right-wing radio show, the feds would leave her alone.

When asked about the rigid new deportation and detention policies, a spokesman for the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services told The New York Times: "Everything we do is aimed at national security." What a joke. How will our nation be safer if Kari Rein is booted out? Doesn't the Department of Homeland Security have anything more important to do?

If this is what passes for a war on terror, we're in deep trouble.

Rein knows her deportation case isn't typical -- a white European who's lived here a long time. "We went public because we thought we could help others," she says. "What's happening to me and my family is what's happening to thousands of people. . . . Most of these cases are nameless and faceless."

Says David Shomloo, "Unfortunately, there are many Kari Reins out there."

Don't think it couldn't happen to someone you know. This is the new America.

Posted: April 8, 2004


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