Junior Francis was walking to his car with two of his six children last month, about to take them to school, when agents from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service showed up at his home in Silver Spring and arrested him.
Since Feb. 4, Francis has been held at a detention center in Cambridge, Md., awaiting deportation to Jamaica. Score one for the immigration officials who found out that Francis had been convicted of possessing marijuana in 1984 and are now about to deport him.
"Why wait this long to come pick him up?" asked Marcia Francis, his wife. "Why let him establish a life and then rip it all away?"
Francis was 27 when he completed a 21/2-year prison term. He started a landscaping and cleaning business in Potomac, bought a house in Rockville and has stayed on the right side of the law ever since.
Among his customers is Robert Eisinger, owner of a commercial real estate management company in Gaithersburg.
"Junior is a very hard worker, usually putting in 14- to 16-hour days in order to support his family," said Eisinger, who has known Francis for 10 years. "Why would anybody go through the effort to destroy this man and his family when they could be out looking for the bad guys?"
Part of the answer to that question can be found in Rockville's Lake Manor section, where Francis lived before neighbors began complaining about his family in 1997.
"Their family is large, and because Mr. Francis' work is seasonal, they often have relatively less money than their neighbors to spend on property upkeep," Rebecca Rose, a social worker with the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, wrote in a recent letter to immigration officials. "Not only did [neighbors] complain, but they frequently called police for minor annoyances."
One of those who responded was Christopher Wilson, a code enforcement specialist with the Montgomery County police. He recently told immigration officials that several complaints were filed against the Francises concerning a vehicle.
"I went to the property and investigated the complaints," Wilson wrote. "Each time, I found no violations nor any basis for a complaint."
But the county police force was not the only law enforcement agency contacted in 1998. Someone called the INS -- whose duties have since been taken over by agencies of the new Department of Homeland Security -- and the INS discovered Francis's conviction. That was cause enough for deportation.
Francis spent six months in detention. His wife fell behind on the mortgage payments and eventually lost the house.
In 1999, an immigration judge threw out a deportation case against Francis after deciding that he should be allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship. Francis, now 42, had come from Jamaica to live with relatives in the Washington area in 1971. He was 11 years old when he arrived, and by all accounts, he thought he was a citizen until he got in trouble with the INS.
His application for naturalization was denied by the INS, however, and deportation proceedings began anew in 2001. The Francis family was renting a house in Silver Spring when he was arrested last month.
"The same thing is happening that happened the last time he was picked up by the INS," Marcia Francis said recently. "We could not afford to live. We had our lights, gas and heat cut off. We barely had money for food. And after all of that, we lost the house."
In addition to their six children and two grandchildren, the Francises usually have other, "adopted" family members living with them, including teenagers who have quarreled with their parents and who stay long enough for the air to clear.
"When we were homeless, people took us in," Marcia Francis said. "So we do the same for others. That's just the kind of people we are."
For now, friends are pitching in to help the family buy food and pay legal fees. One of them is Walter Madden, a former assistant state's attorney for Montgomery County.
"On numerous occasions, I have observed how Junior conducts himself not only towards his customers but also towards his family," Madden wrote in a letter to the INS. "In addition to being impeccably honest, he is most humble and respectful. Moreover, how much of a debt must he pay before he can safely say that the past is past and that the future is now?"
Denyse Sabagh, Francis's attorney, says she hopes that that the INS will at least defer action on the deportation.
"Under immigration law, there is a forgiveness provision which allows them to say, in effect, 'We know he's here, and we know he's deportable, but because of compelling humanitarian circumstances, we will give low priority to the case and not rush to prosecute,' " Sabagh said.
Chris Bentley, a government spokesman, agreed that immigration law does provide for such administrative discretion, but he added, "The bar is very high." As for the Francis case, all he could say was, "Deportation proceedings are underway."
So, a good man gets kicked out of the country, and a traumatized family gets thrown onto the welfare rolls. And they call it justice.