After serving more than 25 years in prison, Rafael DeJesus had his sentence commuted by former Governor Rick Snyder last year, but now he faces deportation.
DeJesus came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic when he was 15, and at 22, while he was a legal resident, he was sentenced to 60-100 years for cocaine possession with the intent to sell.
Listen to Stateside's conversation with Hillary Scholten, an attorney with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, who is representing DeJesus in his deportation case.
Berenice Albright, DeJesus’ older sister, spent years trying to get her brother out of prison, saying his sentence was too harsh. Albright created a website to try to get people to re-evaluate her brother's case.
“He should have never been sentenced to that many years. He made his mistake, yeah, but he’s about to turn 50 and he’s been locked away since he was basically a boy,” Albright said.
Albright says DeJesus has spent most of his two and a half decades at the Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia helping others. He was active in training seeing-eye dogs for the visually impaired, doing conflict resolution programs, and knitting hats for children with cancer.
Todd Cioffi, director of the Calvin Prison Initiative, says DeJesus is the type of person the program was designed to help.
“Rafael is exactly what we look for, someone who made a mistake but has been doing everything he can to make the best of his life and the lives of others,” Cioffi said.
Then last year, former Governor Rick Snyder commuted his sentence. Before DeJesus' release, however, he was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Hillary Scholten, an attorney with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, says DeJesus is not a threat.
“Someone always willing to step up and give of themselves and make their community a better place, even in less than ideal circumstances. And that’s really what Rafael embodies,” Scholten said.
DeJesus is currently is at a Calhoun County detention center. Scholten says there are few legal moves that could help DeJesus stay in the country. Scholten believes DeJesus’ original sentence was far too harsh.
“I won’t say he committed a victimless crime, but come on, that type of sentence is insane. There’s no way a first time offender for a non-violent crime should go away for that many years,” she said.
Albright says that DeJesus doesn't have any remaining family in the Dominican Republic, so if he is sent back, he will be there on his own.
"Both our parents already passed, so he will be starting from zero if he is sent back. He is only a few credits from getting a degree here and all the work he's been doing in prison was done here. He'd be starting over," Albright said.
ICE did not respond to a request for comment.