By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
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By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
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"Reporting for work release is just urine tests and staying there for six hours. That's freedom," Aragones says. "But they brought him back into the system as a criminal, although it was INS time."
In spring 1995, Walters appeared before New York immigration Judge Alan Vomacka, asking for a special exemption to the 1952 law based on his good behavior, his family ties, and the hardships he would face if he were sent to Britain.
"The only reason why I was even born in England was because my mother and my father at the time went to England for economic reasons, from Jamaica," he told Vomacka. "I guess because they couldn't make ends meet in England, they came to America, where the rest of our family was. And that's where I've been since. It's not like I have a family to go over there to. My son, you know, my business, everything that I've loved, everything that I've known, everything that I know, learned. I have feelings. I have a family here."
His lawyers presented a pack of fans and supporters to argue that it was important for the country that Walters stay put.
David Paterson, a New York state senator, appeared at the trial to testify about how Walters was working to "better the lives of our children" by warning them against taking the law into their own hands. Russell Simmons wrote on Walters' behalf: "He's a deeply serious artist and I know that he'll devote himself fulltime to his art as soon as he is allowed to return to it."
Walters' parents, grandparents, and cousins begged for a second chance. Adler testified that almost 6,000 people had signed petitions asking for Walters to stay.
Even the lawyer of Wilbert Henry, the bystander Walters had shot, sent in a glowing testimonial. "Mr. Walters, in a deeply sincere expression of remorse, was embraced by Mr. Henry who expressed his forgiveness," the lawyer wrote. "I was personally touched and as a practitioner of criminal law for some 25 years very impressed. I truly believe that Mr. Walters' conduct in 1990 was an aberration."
(Henry's forgiveness may have had something to do with the $150,000 settlement he received from Walters, though his lawyer didn't mention it.)
The performance impressed Judge Vomacka, who granted Walters a waiver of deportation. The INS appealed the decision, accusing Vomacka of "abusing his discretion" by granting Walters relief.
"The negative factors in his case outweigh the positive," wrote Suzanne McGregor, an INS attorney. She pointed out that Walters and Santiago, the mother of his child, were estranged; that Walters' father hadn't come to the hearing; and that the rapper had spent his early career "carrying an enormous amount of weaponry on his person, thus creating an extreme danger to the community and ultimately culminating in multiple attempted murders."
The INS appeal, however, was rebuffed. On November 17, 1995, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) ruled that letting Walters stay "appears to be in the best interests of this country."
But the INS came back again, asking the BIA to reopen the case based on the length of time Walters had spent in custody, pointing to a law requiring that only aliens who had spent less than five years in jail were eligible for relief from deportation.
The long appeals and delays in the case had added time to Walters' days in prison, and the month before the BIA ruled on the initial appeal, the rapper had passed his fifth anniversary behind bars. The new INS appeal, however, didn't dwell on how much of Walters' time in prison had been a result of the government's own slow prosecution of the case, including numerous delays.
"I think they were dragging their feet in the case," says Ira Kurzban, one of Walters' lawyers. "I think there's no question about that."
This time, the appeals board agreed with the INS and ordered Walters deported. His attorneys cried foul, arguing that the INS could have presented evidence about Walters' time served in custody before the case had closed, and that reopening the case was a violation of due process. For another three years, the case dragged on as Walters' attorneys tried to convince judges that the INS had cheated Walters by keeping him in jail unnecessarily long and then asking that he be deported for spending so much time behind bars.
In 1996, however, the sweeping new Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act had become law, preventing aliens from appealing deportation orders in federal court. Two years later, Walters' appeal was denied.
Nearing the end of his parole and newly married to Mandy Aragones, Walters stopped fighting. Technically, the deportation order was still on the books. But he says he was told by INS officials that they wouldn't ever try to forcibly deport him.
"When I was in jail, Immigration came to visit me," he says about his interactions with the INS in the late 1990s. "When they came about to visit me, they decided not to bother to push immigration issues at all."
The government won't comment on whether Walters was ever informed that he wouldn't be forced to leave. In fact, it won't discuss the case at all. Spokesmen at Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Justice, as well as lawyers who have written the government's briefs, all refused to talk to New Times about why they are so intent on getting Walters deported.