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How Alleged SF Murderer Avoided Deportation

The man accused of five murders in San Francisco last week could have been deported to Vietnam six years ago after serving time for an armed robbery and assault in San Jose. A judge ordered Binh Thai Luc deported. But immigration authorities say they had to let Luc go after Vietnam failed to provide the needed documents.

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Courtesy SFPD

Binh Thai Luc is accused of slaying five people in San Francisco.

HOST CY MUSIKER: The man accused of five murders in San Francisco last week would have been deported to Vietnam six years ago, if immigration authorities had had their way. 

Binh Thai Luc served eight years for an armed robbery and assault in San Jose. When he got out of state prison in 2006, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents took him into custody.

A judge ordered him deported. But immigration authorities say they had to let Luc go after Vietnam failed to provide the needed documents.
Bill Hing is a law professor at the University of San Francisco and an expert on immigration policy.
Professor Hing, explain the rules if you can -- what kind of documents did U.S. immigration officials need to deport Binh Thai Luc, who is a Vietnamese citizen.

BILL HING: They basically needed the equivalent of a passport from Vietnam, and since he entered the country, more likely than not, as a refugee … refugees usually don't travel, as you might expect with passports because they're fleeing their countries. And so, Vietnam had to issue a travel document that was the equivalent of a passport.

MUSIKER: And failed to do so.

HING: That's right.

MUSIKER: And the U.S. had to release Luc after holding him 180 days -- this is back in 2006 -- if there was little likelihood of successfully sending him back to Vietnam. Why is it that they had to release him?

HING: Well, in 2001, the Supreme Court decided a case named Zadvydas and Kim Ho Ma v Davis. It involved a German/Lithuanian person and a Cambodian person who the government had a hard time deporting for similar reasons -- no travel documents. And the Supreme Court held that the ICE could not hold people in that category indefinitely, if, you're right, if one of the conditions was not met; that either the country did not issue travel documents, and secondly, if the person was not a danger to security in the community. So ICE had to make a decision at some point with Mr. Luc after 180 days that they couldn't deport him, and they also had to determine that he was no longer a danger to the community.

MUSIKER: Right, and apparently he did check in with immigration authorities on a regular basis after his release.

HING: That's right. That's a regular requirement of anyone who's released. And the truth is that every year about 4,000 individuals in this category are released from custody, and yes, there are a handful of people that recidivate and commit crimes. Unfortunately, Mr. Luc allegedly committed pretty heinous one.

MUSIKER: Last year the Obama administration reported a huge increase in deportations of people considered criminals, many of them arrested for traffic or immigration law violations. Does Luc's crime -- and he robbed a Chinese restaurant in San Jose -- fit the profile of someone who should have been deported by the U.S.?

HING: Well, he certainly fell within category of somebody that, yes, should have been deported. He served his time in jail, and the vast majority of people that commit a crime like Mr. Luc do get deported.

MUSKIER: At the same time the U.S. is reviewing thousands of deportation cases involving people here in the United States illegally; and trying to reduce this being backlog that exists in the courts; and trying to focus on undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes. How do you rate that effort?

HING: Well, so far the jury is still out. It's very inconsistent. What the Obama administration pledged to do was to not institute proceedings against "low-priority cases," people that did not commit any crimes or committed very minor offenses like traffic offenses. But every day, there are some people in that category that get deported. The idea was that they were going to just focus on serious criminals, and it's been very inconsistent. There's a backlog of about 400,000 cases that they're going through, and so, it's taking a lot of time.

MUSIKER: So does the Luc case tell us anything about the ability of immigration authorities to really keep potential criminals out of the U.S.?

HING: I think that it's misleading, because the vast majority of people that commit serious crimes who are deportable, in fact, get deported. There's a small category of people, for example, from Cambodia and Vietnam, that did not arrive with travel documents, and those countries are countries that are not anxious to accept back criminals who generally grew up in the United States. I don't know when Mr. Luc entered and what age, but there are many people that are on that deportation list from Vietnam and Cambodia who entered as infants and toddlers. Some have been deported. Those who have been deported mostly grew up in the United States, and one would argue that they're a product of U.S. society.

MUSIKER: Thanks so much for talking to us.

HING: You're welcome.

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