Monday, April 27, 2009

Mark Lyttle In Hiding From ICE

On Thursday, April 23, Neil Rambana informed me that another client of his, Mark Lyttle, was a U.S. citizen wrongfully identified as a noncitizen by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent. (You can read about the first client, David, HERE, and Mark Lyttle HERE and you can read all the posts on Mark by clicking on Mark Lyttle.)

I spoke with Mark and his mother on Friday, April 24 and wrote about some of Mark's forced travel through Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala after ICE removed him.

Here's what's happened in the meantime.

The DHS issued a press release Friday stating it was correcting its databases; as of this morning, not only was Mark still listed in the ICE database as Mexican, he also is listed as being in ICE custody in Atlanta.

ICE spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez points out that the DHS never said when it would finish its updating. I asked her if there was a timeline that DHS had in mind when it issued this statement. She could not provide one. This leads me to conclude that when the DHS says it is updating its records, and there is no time line given, DHS is asserting that it cannot be held accountable for updating its records.

Right now Mark is with his brothers Tommy and Brian at Fort Campbell, Tennessee. Mark wanted to stay with his brother, an army officer, because he was not comforted by his attorney's assurances that ICE would stop arresting him and wanted Tommy's protection. Looks like Mark was right. At this point if Mark were stopped and someone ran his name through a DHS database, it is likely he would be arrested.

After I told Mark's youngest brother, Brian, 25, also in the U.S. army, that Mark's name was in the ICE database as in detention in Atlanta, he said in disgust, "Government agencies operate with impunity. There's no ramifications for anything they do. We need to see this thing through. People need to lose their jobs. There needs to be some sort of restitution." Brian added that he'd also insisted that Mark get away from Atlanta. He'd heard that, "In Atlanta they can arrest you if you don't have ID on you. If you can't prove who you are, they can detain you." He said I should look into that to make sure, but that this is what he thought was going on. (This would be illegal, but so is deporting a U.S. citizen.)

Meanwhile, I made some inquiries of ICE and North Carolina prison personnel to learn how Mark was put into deportation proceedings. What I learned is chilling. ICE is instructing its agents to put together information about Mark's history of mental illness in order to support a story that Mark had told ICE he was not a U.S. citizen, suggesting that Mark is or was mentally incompetent.

An ICE agent who does not work for public affairs told me that ICE in Atlanta tasked someone to go through Mark's medical records and pull out all the information on his "psychiatric illnesses." The agent told me that he could see in Mark's file that he was classified as bipolar, something that Mark himself had told me when we spoke on Friday and that I didn't mention because it had nothing to do with him being deported and because the diagnosis is uncertain, as I explain below.

Mark also is diabetic, but no one from ICE it Atlanta was asking for evidence about how this condition might have affected his detention and deportation. The agent would not tell me the grounds on which ICE had decided that Mark was Mexican, that was private, but was happy to tell me that Mark was bipolar. (Mark and his mother Jeanne discussed his having a "mental disorder" a television reporter who posted this on the internet, and that's why I'm writing about it today.)

The crafting of this information into an explanation for Mark's deportation was signaled as well by Ivan Ortiz, a DHS public affairs officer. I asked Ortiz why ICE gave Mark a notice to appear in immigration court. Ortiz replied, "That was a decision made by an immigration judge." This was not responsive, although I pity Ortiz's friends growing up, so I repeated the question. (Immigration judges do not issue notices to appear in their immigration courts; ICE does.)

Ortiz said, "At the time he did not say he was a U.S. citizen and everything indicated he was Mexican." I told Mark this afternoon what Ortiz told me and Mark was firm, repeating what he'd told me earlier, that he had insisted his name was Mark Daniel Lyttle, that he'd given him his social security number, which he had memorized, told them he was a U.S. citizen, and that he never, not once, said he was Mexican until after the immigration judge issued a deportation order and Mark wanted to get out of the Stewart Detention Center.

The DHS was trying to use a similar line in defending their deportation of Peter Guzman, also a U.S. citizen born in the United States. ICE said that Guzman himself had said he was born in Mexico. First, a defense against a charge of misconduct or kidnapping cannot be that the victim had a mental illness. And second, Mark Lyttle told ICE and Peter Guzman told the L.A.jail custodial assistant that they were born in the United States, respectively. (An agent states this in an affidavit defending Guzman's deportation and then says they didn't believe Guzman because aliens lie.)

Just to be clear, there are cases in which an underlying mental illness can wrongfully trigger deportation proceedings, as was the case for someone I identified as Anna in article I wrote for The Nation. Anna, documented as legally incompetent, told a police officer arresting her in Phoenix she was born in France and the foreign birth statement triggered her being sent to the Eloy Detention Center. She also has said that the Pope is her father and JFK is her father, but ICE did not deport her to the Vatican or call Caroline Kennedy.

Eventually, relying only on the sworn statement of someone who was legally incompetent, an immigration judge issued Anna a deportation order, which was not executed because France would not accept her so Anna is presumably wandering around southern Arizona deprived of her citizenship rights and subject to being thrown into detention at any point. A passport application in her files states she is born in Tehran, so Anna had better pray that the U.S. continues to have poor relations with Iran, or she might find herself in the Middle East.

In the event, I have spoke with Mark for a couple of hours. He was completely lucid and also sharp on the timeline and details of what happened. I hope there are tapes on file for the immigration hearings because I am confident they will confirm Mark's story.


Jeanne, 60, lost her job today as a rehab aid at a local hospital because she was allowed only one absence during her 90-day probationary period, set to end May 13, and she used up a second one on Friday when she went to pick up Mark from the Fulton County Jail where ICE was holding him.

This is just one example of the myriad of consequences that ICE misconduct causes to innocent parties, especially family members. Other examples are U.S. children of detainees being held in foster care before being adopted while their parents are either still in detention or deported, family members who are in advanced stages of illness denied the comfort of loved ones while on their death beds, U.S. citizens having their relatives, often legal permanent residents, "disappeared" by ICE, something that Jeanne also experienced, although part of the separation period is due to the prisons and not just DHS.

Jeanne hadn't seen Mark since July, 2007, when she dropped him off at a group home in North Carolina. Mark, one of three special needs siblings she adopted, in addition to two to whom she gave birth. Mark had some problems taking care of himself due to either mental illness or drugs he'd been prescribed to help treat it, discussed below. Jeanne was moving to Kentucky and there wasn't room in the Saturn for her daughter, Mark, and their belongings. The plan was that once she was settled, she'd come back and pick him up. She spoke with him on the phone a few times, enough to learn he was unhappy, but when she tried to make arrangements to find him in August, he was gone. Turns out he'd been arrested for trespassing -- Jeanne said he'd broken a rule in the home -- and he was sent to Jacksonville Jail.

After that Jeanne lost track of him, "I sent him a letter with everyone's phone numbers, but I got it back - 'Refused.'" In fall and winter, 2007 "his brothers walked the streets looking for him, everybody was looking for him. I checked the obituaries." On Mother's Day in 2008 she called a state hospital where Mark had once stayed, "The attendant remembered me and said, 'I'm not supposed to do this, but I'll get on the computer and check all the hospitals.'" No sign of of Mark. The same day, her son David, 29, said, "'Mom, let me try.' He sent the letter to same place at the jail and he enclosed the letter I got back. When I went to visit David in Winchester, Virginia, he showed me the manila envelope -- 'Refused'-- and we thought Mark had refused it. I thought Mark felt I left him behind, that I just left him [when I was moving to Kentucky]." Jeanne was crying, "We kept trying to find out where he was," and she told me about a family friend who was a lawyer and had hired a private investigator to help Jeanne find her son, but then the attorney had a stroke. It turned out that Mark had never received any of their letters.

Mark's absence haunted her family. Jeanne said that two weekends back she was visiting her son Tommy, 29, in Fort Campbell. They were talking about where Mark might be, speculating if he could be in Atlanta. Tommy tried calling some places, I'm not sure where, and Jeanne could hear him say, "I'm looking for Mark Lyttle." But no news.

Until Friday, April 17. That's when Jeanne received a phone call from Tommy, who said he was calling her about Mark. "I asked [Tommy] if he'd found [Mark] and he said, "Mom, I didn't find him, he found me," and explained how Mark had called him from the U.S. embassy in Guatemala, the first leg of Mark's trip home. If the embassy staff in Guatemala could believe Mark, and pay for an international call to his brother Brian, then why couldn't government employees in the United States exstend Mark the same courtesy before shipping him out of the country?

Jeanne described her response to Mark's deportation by his own government, "I'm a strong Christian woman, but let justice be served. This beats all. I thought I was dreaming, or seeing a made-for-TV movie. How many others are out there?"


Mark and his family freely discuss his mental illness diagnoses. Jeanne, who repeatedly mentioned her faith in God, said that perhaps it was a blessing that this happened. "Mark told me he was 'traumatized,'" revealing to Jeanne not only his distress, but a mental and emotional acuity that Jeanne had never seen in her son before. "I'm so shocked he's so clear-headed," she told me.

Jeanne explained that a while back a psychiatrist in Virginia had called and said "he wasn't supposed to be calling me" but he had treated Mark and when he took him off the medication, Mark seemed fine. In other words, it was the medication that was causing Mark's disorders. The psychiatrist said that she might have grounds for a lawsuit against the places that had been medicating him so heavily.

Again, I was reluctant to pursue this topic in this particular case because it seems a distraction from the main issue: ICE wrongfully deported someone. However, because his family is discussing Mark's psychological condition with the media and because ICE appears to believe that it is more defensible to deport someone because of mental illness than racial profiling, I thought I would supplement the record.

Mark's response to what happened as far as I can tell from our phone conversations is the response of any sane person: he's traumatized, terrified of law enforcement, especially ICE, and happy, very, very happy, to be back with his brothers, including Tommy, 29, who took this picture of Mark this afternoon.


Mark said...

Why do HIPAA laws not prevent ICE from disclosing Mark's health issues? Is ICE somehow exempt from other federal laws?

sonia said...

Mark, I am so happy you are home. I hope people will read this and realize that it happens more than they know. I would suggest trying to get court transcripts as soon as possible, I have been told that if you tell the immigration judge you are not going to appeal they destroy the tapes.

shoshana said...


Thank you for writing this story there are some missing pieces to it. The embassy would send Mark back to America so when they found his brother Tommy from the army data base it was Tommy would paid for his plane ticket, passport, hotel and all other paperwork. It is so wrong that even after immigration and the embassy realized Mark was American and gave him a passport, that they weren't will to fit the bills that were made by ICE. Mark shouldn't have to hind at Tommy's house in KY like he is ICE should be paying out Money to Mark for all the pain he has been through as well as a pay out to Tommy for the debt he has taken on in fxing all ofICE mistakes. Mark was one of the lucky few his brother was is the system because he is a soldier which makes him easy to find. How many others are out there lost outside of the states with families who aren't in the system and can be tracked down???? Heads need to roll at the jail house who let Mark go and at the group home (hospital) Mark lived at before he went to Jail, he was under there care they let him get kidnapped and ICE should be closed down for this. People need to loss there jobs and Mark need to be paid for the time and the pain. ICE should also be paying for a full health check Mark has lost so much weight over the last four months he needs to be fully checked out!!!

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