11/15/2009 01:07 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

How Did Balloon Boy's Mom Steer Clear of Detention and Deportation?

Mayumi and Richard Heene, parents of Falcon (aka 'Balloon Boy'), entered guilty pleas on Friday in connection with the incident several weeks ago when they lied to the authorities about their son's whereabouts. The mother pleaded guilty to a class three misdemeanor; the father pleaded guilty to a felony. Had Mayumi pleaded guilty to a felony instead of a misdemeanor, after serving her criminal sentence, Immigration and Customs Enforcement would then place an immigration detainer on her before deporting her to Japan, the country of her birth. So how did Mayumi Heene manage to steer clear of detention and deportation?

We are all too familiar with the saga of Balloon Boy. The image that comes to mind is that of a flying saucer-styled helium balloon careening across the sky, allegedly carrying a 6-year old boy, if frantic calls to 911 were to be believed. Flights in the Denver metro area were diverted. An extensive search was mounted, at taxpayers' expense. As it turned out, the minor child was in the family attic, out of harm's way, through it all. The theatrics were all part of a grand scheme hatched by the parents, former participants in a reality TV show Wife Swap, to drum up interest for a new reality series.

Richard Heene pleaded guilty to attempting to influence a public servant; Mayumi pleaded guilty to making a false report to authorities. In a statement last week, the family lawyer David Lane said that going to trial "would have put the family at grave risk of seeing a loving, caring, compassionate wife and mother ripped from the family and deported." So the couple decided to seek the plea deal. If only this rationale was applied consistently to all cases.

Last month I released a report, The Faces of Detention and Deportation: A Report on the Forced Repatriation of Immigrants from the English-Speaking Caribbean, highlighting the plight in the Caribbean-American community where families are being torn apart by detention and deportation. Heads of household and breadwinners are being deported, leaving behind caregivers and their U.S. citizen children. The nature of their offenses, according to a recent report by Department of Homeland Security, involve dangerous drugs, traffic offenses, simple assault and larceny. Yet keeping these families together does not appear to be a priority.