Recently, I’ve seen articles in the New Yorker, on slate.com, and on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog that all wonder why Dharun Ravi–the boy who is being charged with spying on Tyler Clementi’s sexual activities before the gay teen committed suicide–hasn’t taken the plea bargain that would let him off without jail time and with some protection against deportation (Ravi is not an American citizen).
All of these articles seem to take it for granted that a New Jersey prosecutor will somehow be able to influence the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and/or a federal judge to avoid deporting a convicting criminal. To me, this seems like an extremely fragile guarantee. We live in a country where people are routinely scooped up and held without trial in immigration lockups and deported. A country where legitimate visa-holders are denied entry to the country for no stated reason. A country where people of South Asian descent are added to mysterious no-fly lists or terrorist watchlists or even targeted assassination lists without any sort of judicial review. This is a country where mentally handicapped American citizens have been deported to Mexico merely because they had hispanic names. Its a country where American-born children are deported along with their illegal parents. This is a country whose authorities are brutally unforgiving to both criminals and to immigrants.
If Ravi takes a plea, then his fate will not be adjudicated by his fellow Americans. It will instead be left entirely to the doubtful sympathies of (largely white) prosecutors and judges who tend to build their careers by fostering hard-line nativist sentiment. To me it’s not surprising that he would be willing to trust himself to a jury that will almost certainly include people of color, recent immigrants, and the descendants of recent immigrants. Sure, his juvenile activities might have had horrible consequences, but I think it’s not impossible that a jury of ordinary Americans might think that ten years in prison and a lifetime in India is too steep a punishment for those actions. Furthermore, I also think that it’s entirely possible that he sees avoiding deportation as being worth risking the possibility of a few years in prison. What is a 19 year old American kid going to do in India? What kind of life is he going to have? In fact, I wonder that more people have not emphasized the racial element in this case. Because of his race and immigration status, Dharun Ravi has to suffer more punishment for this same crime than an American citizen or someone from a less impoverished country would have to. If it wasn’t for that, then I am pretty sure he would have settled and this would all have been over months ago.