In 2013, 369,000 immigrants were deported from the United States, and half of those deportations resulted from criminal convictions ranging from minor misdemeanors to felony-level crimes. Eighty-four percent of those individuals were not allowed any legal representation to contest the charges brought against them.
So how does the Canadian citizen and pop star Justin Bieber fit into the equation? Bieber’s recent criminal activity has sparked nationwide debates and national media coverage.
Justin Bieber, who is in the United States on a visa, was recently arrested for egging his neighbor’s house in Calabasas, Calif. This seemingly petty crime caused $200,000 in damage to the neighbor’s home, making this a felony-level crime. Additionally, when the police raided Bieber’s home during the incident, they found bags of cocaine, adding another felony-level crime to his resumé. However, instead of arresting Bieber for the cocaine, law enforcement arrested and charged his friend, Lil Za, for the drugs. As if this weren’t enough for Bieber, he was recently charged with an assault on a limo driver in Toronto, Canada. Bieber’s current experiences with law enforcement, his privilege and the unfairness of immigration policies just might keep him in the United States.
For many immigrants in the United States, these incidents would have immediately resulted in detainment and deportation without access to the due process Bieber has been given. He has not been deported because he has not been convicted of his “alleged” crimes yet, but many of the immigrants who have been deported for low-level crimes were never able to defend themselves. In the rare chance that the these individuals did get a chance to fight deportation, many did not have access to a high-quality attorney like Bieber has.
Bieber’s case is interesting to look at because he has the TRUST Act on his side. The act, which was signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown, took effect just this month in hopes of protecting immigrants from deportation. Under the act, police are not authorized to play the role of immigration officers, which means they cannot check the status of a person’s citizenship or threaten to deport those who are not U.S. citizens. Though the act is active in California, it is not active in the rest of the United States, so many immigrants still live in fear of being separated from their families and sent back to their home countries for running a red light or other minor crimes. This is not the case for Justin Bieber.
Even without the TRUST Act, Justin Bieber would still be saved from the pain other immigrants feel when being deported. A majority of immigrants deported from the United States are immigrants of color. When a brown individual gets stopped by the police in a place highly populated with other immigrants, the police will most likely assume the person is a non-citizen and then begin the process of detainment and deportation. Because Bieber has celebrity status, everyone knows that he isn’t a U.S. citizen. However, if he were stopped in a situation where law enforcement didn’t know who he was, the color of his skin would not lead to the questioning of his citizenship status. That’s privilege. So far, the U.S. justice system has proven that the more privilege someone has, the easier they can slip out of things, including felony charges. Only time will tell what happens to Bieber, but my guess is that his privilege and wealth will keep him performing in arenas all across America.