(For an updated account, after speaking with Mark and his mother, Jeannie, please go here.)
Neil Rambana, an attorney in Florida who'd reported an earlier case of a client of his that ICE had misclassified as a noncitizen, is helping another US citizen, Mark, in the middle of a surreal and excruciating experience with the DHS. [Added 4/24/09 Immigration Judge William Cassidy in Atlanta wrongfully deported Mark on December 9, 2008 to Mexico, and from there he ended up in Guatemala via Nicaragua before returning to the U.S. on Tuesday, only to be arrested by DHS at the airport.]
Mark's family first learned he was in Guatemala when he called his brother, Tommy, last Friday from the US Consulate. The consular officer told Tommy that his adopted brother, born in North Carolina, was trying to return to the United States. The family contacted Rambana and he faxed a copy of Mark's adoption papers indicating his U.S. birth. That was good enough for the U.S. consulate to not only issue Mark a temporary U.S. passport, but to help him obtain a plane ticket for his return. But DHS only compounded their earlier injury once Mark arrived.
Instead of apologizing for their enormous mistake, DHS at the Atlanta airport accused Mark of illegal reentry and took him into custody. Rambana paraphrased what Mark was told, "Customs and border patrol say you have an order of deportation; you're reeentering after you've been deported."
Rambana has spoken to ICE agents in Atlanta and left messages, and has also spoken to the DHS desk attorney, who has the authority to dismiss charges and order Mark released.
DHS has ignored the legal presumption of US citizenship conferred by a US passport and falsely arrested Mark. So far no one has responded to Rambana's persistent requests for Mark's release.
As Neil and I were getting off the phone we talked about how odd it was that this sort of case had long stopped seeming unusual. I told him about some conversations I'd been having with a criminal attorney in Phoenix (will post soon) about the border patrol down there tearing up the birth certificates of Mexican-American teenage boys and judges deporting them, and then prosecutors charging them with illegal reentry. Neil said ruefully, "The worst part is that it's so outrageous that it's happening so often and beginning not to seem so outrageous."
(I sent the case information including the A number and Rambana's contact information to Barbara Gonzalez, an ICE spokeswoman who claims that ICE does not arrest U.S. citizens. Fingers crossed...)
UPDATE: Friday Morning, 4/24/09--Barbara Gonzalez was responsive. She called the ICE office in Atlanta and the DHS desk attorney to ask them to look into Mark's detention. Rambana sent me a note this morning saying that DHS is now acknowledging that Mark is a U.S. citizen and they are going to release him. I will be speaking shortly with his family.
UPDATE: Friday Noon, 4/24/09-- Mark is home with his mother. More tomorrow.
As I've written before, the only means of preventing US citizens and legal permanent residents from being wrongfully detained and deported, and not to deprive them of Constitutional rights to their citizenship and legal residence, is to provide everyone in deportation proceedings an attorney and the full due process protections of the U.S. Constitution. Under the U.S. Constitution, it is never legal to deport a U.S. citizen by mistake. Any laws, regulations, or DHS or DOJ practices with this effect must be stopped immediately, including the mandatory criminal alien deportation law.
In some cases the agents involved should not only be fired, but charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment.
One final note: Last year, when I was writing an article for The Nation about US citizens being deported, I sent ICE public affairs spokespersons Brandon Alvarez-Montgomery, Viriginia Kice, and Lori Haley documents indicating that Rene Saldivar, a US citizen, was being wrongfully detained in Eloy, Arizona. I was testing their statements that ICE did not knowingly detain US citizens. ICE failed. This time, although DHS in Atlanta ignored Mark's passport and arrested him, the ICE public affairs person in DC, Barbara Gonzalez, followed up on my inquiry and Mark was released.
It seems that DHS is finally acknowledging that its agents do arrest US citizens, the first step to ending not only the wrongful detention of U.S. citizens, but the archaic practice of banishment. The problem of US citizens being deported is a headline grabber, and that's unfortunate unless the complexities and traumas of the inane U.S.-Mexican border, indeed of any border, are understood as the main narrative driving the story.
The first deportations from England to the colonies were not criminals but vagrants, English nationals who were "caught" outside their parishes of birth. The thought was that if left uncontrolled, the free movement of peasants and paupers would overwhelm the cities. The barbarity of punishing people for moving across a national border will strike future generations as ridiculous as it would seem now to ship people out of San Francisco for the crime of moving there from Omaha, Nebraska--a distance much further, in many ways, than the distance between Mexico and the southern United States.