8/21/09--click here for a slightly different version published today on Huffingtonpost.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been deporting over a million people each year. Most are Mexican citizens residing here without legal status. But thousands of those being detained and even deported are US citizens.
This sounds unbelievable, and it should. ICE has no authority over US citizens. Nonetheless, a systematic examination of thousands of individual case files for detainees in southern Arizona between 2006 and 2008 revealed that just over one percent were deemed US citizens by an immigration judge.
Estimates are that an additional one percent of detainees are US citizens but either do not know this, or choose not to remain locked up for an indeterminate time with few due process rights and hence falsely confess to alienage and agree to be deported.
(This estimate is based on reports from criminal attorneys contacted to file habeas briefs, as well as pro bono immigration attorneys and attorneys who work on federal contracts for Legal Orientation Programs servicing detention centers.)
Mark Lyttle, 32, a US citizen born in Salisbury, North Carolina can attest to all of this. He knows what it's like to be kicked out of his own country and, among other things, have to pretend to be Cuban in Honduras to avoid being put in a US prison for false impersonation of a US citizen, a charge lodged against Mark by Customs and Border Patrol at the Hidalgo border just after Christmas when he tried to return home.
Right, this makes no sense, and it is unbelievable.
Last week I received Mark's "alien file" maintained by the Department of Homeland Security. It includes a significant paper trail, or rather, copies of the legal paper chain that pulled Mark into statelessness.
Today I want to focus on the first tiny, ridiculously important event that led to Mark's four month journey through five countries in Latin America. In upcoming posts I’ll review additional documents.
SCAAP at Neuse Correctional Institution
North Carolina is one of the numerous states participating in the State Criminal Alien Apprehension Program. (For more posts on this, start here.) This means prisons screen for aliens or possible aliens and report them to ICE. The ICE agent then comes to the prison, in this case the Neuse Correctional Institution in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and interviews the inmate to determine if the person's legal status as well as criminal record warrant deportation.
On August 27, 2008, according to a Neuse employee, "five or six ladies who do the admin intakes" would have been typing into the North Carolina Offender database vital statistics for the approximately 60 inmates they were screening that day.
For Mark this meant a record stating:
Place of Birth: MEXICO
Mark says he remembers the interview. The woman told him he had brown skin, so maybe he was from Mexico. Or maybe he was "Oriental," whatever that means. She was going to alert ICE to follow up. (Perhaps she did this by typing “Mexico” as Mark’s place of birth? I guess Mark was lucky: she could have typed "China" -- of course Mark has no relatives from Asia, either.)
The Neuse officer describing these procedures said the prison’s job is alerting ICE to possible alienage but not making a final determination. After all, immigration status is the province of federal immigration agencies, not state prison employees. Upon learning that ICE issued an administrative removal order for someone Neuse had incorrrectly characterized as born in Mexico, the officer said, “I don't understand how ICE did this. They're the ones who are supposed to check this.”
On September 2, 2008, Mark signed an affadavit stating that his name was Jose Thomas and he was born in Mexico. The document’s information is handwritten by ICE agent D. Faucette.
“Jose Thomas”-s mother is named as Jennie Lyttle (his mother’s name is Jeanne) and his father is named as Thomas Lyttle – deceased.
The man who was swearing that his name was Jose Thomas and he was born in Mexico signed the statement: “Mark Lyttle.” Mark does not speak a word of Spanish.
This was the solitary legal document attesting to Mark’s alienage on which ICE relied when on September 5 a deportation officer issued Mark’s “Final Administrative Removal Order.” This document is authorized by 238b of the Immigrant and Nationality Act and deprives aliens and US citizens alike of the right to a hearing before an immigration judge.
At the time this order was issued, ICE also had Mark’s FBI record designating his citizenship as “UNTD STATES AMERICA.” And ICE had Mark’s social security number. The false information that might justify removal was construed as factual and the accurate information indicating US citizenship was ignored. So was the information about Mark’s long history of mental illness.
WHAT HAPPENED DURING THE INTERVIEW WITH AGENT D. FAUCETTE
When Mark returned to the United States he was detained by ICE in the Atlanta airport and interviewed on April 22. This is from an ICE transcript of that interview:
Q. Do you remember why you were ordered removed in December 2008?
A. I talked to an ICE officer and I asked her how Mexico was and to put me over there just to see how it was. She made up some kind of paperwork to make it look like I was from there.
Q. Did you ever tell the ICE officer you were from Mexico?
A. I never told her that.
Mark has a history of mental illness, which also was indicated in the criminal records ICE possessed. Indeed on December 17, 2008, an ICE health inspector evaluating Mark just before he was put on a plane to Mexico wrote:
According to WebMD, Bipolar I disorder is a “form of mental illness. A person affected by bipolar 1 disorder has had at least one manic episode in his or her life. A manic episode is a period of abnormally elevated mood, accompanied by abnormal behavior that disrupts life.”
Mark may have had a manic episode of wanderlust – one from which he tried to recover by signing a sworn statement on November 3, 2008 stating he was born in the United States and a US citizen.
ICE, however, maintained the delusion that the inconsistent and, frankly, goofy statement of Mark’s alienage was authentic and claimed that the more credible and easily verifiable evidence of his US citizenship was false.
When I told Mark’s attorney, Neil Rambana, that ICE had Mark’s FBI record indicating he was a US citizen, Rambana was furious, “That is the most dangerous precedent I have ever heard. Someone swept a whole heap of dust under a carpet because they didn’t want to do their job. These things are easily identifiable by those who have superior resources, but they failed to exercise an iota of effort.”
Commenting on the ICE documents I was reading verbatim from the FOIA-d files, Rambana said, “Everything you are reading is disgusting to me. You just read three different things that all came full circle and all tried to cover themselves by saying he acquiesced. So what if he acquiesced? They should have ascertained the truth; they needed to dot their I-s and cross their T-s. They had someone who looks the part, so they seem to have thought, ‘I'm just going to shuffle him through.’”
Mark is adopted, as are millions of other US citizens. Mark's biological father's name is as Mexican-sounding as Mark Lyttle; and of course someone in the US Embassy in Guatemala City contacted Jeanne Lyttle and was able to issue Mark a US passport based on the documents Jeanne faxed in less than 24 hours.
Rambana does not believe Mark's adoption ameliorates ICE's culpability: "This is the 21st century. People have all sorts of families. If we're not paying attention to the fact that this is a different age, when the nuclear family is not essential to someone's existence, then we are failing as a society."
According to ICE Public Affairs Officer Barbara Gonzalez, the agency believes that the decision by William Cassidy in Atlanta to deport Mark validated ICE's findings. Cassidy, like many so-called immigration judges, runs a kangaroo court. His actions on other occasions have provoked formal and informal complaints. And he has consistently ignored the instructions in the Immigration Judge Benchbook pertaining to the treatment of respondents who lack attorneys.
ICE has not indicated any concern about its agents deporting Mark. Gonzalez stated, “The review of the case shows that the officers executed a removal order issued by an immigration judge, so to my knowledge, there is no investigation into the matter.”
When ICE presents sworn statements by their agents affirming the factually inaccurate narrative of a mental patient, and ICE ignores government records and sworn statements from the same individual that are factually accurate, and thus compiles a record prompting a judge to deport a US citizen, ICE thinks it has done its job.
On July 6, 2009 I asked Gonzalez: “Is it ICE policy that a sworn statement to alienage be considered evidence of alienage and a sworn statement of US citizenship be disregarded? This is a fact pattern in many cases of US citizens being deported and I consider it a very important policy question.”
As of yesterday she was still working on a response. I will report this and other statements from ICE as I review the additional documents in Mark’s file. (If you want to be notified of new posts, just click on the RSS box on the far right side of the URL panel above.)
Mark is living in a group home in Virginia. We speak regularly. Mark’s comments a couple of months ago seem especially apt: “They’re supposed to be professional but they screwed up. The judge is going to look at it and say, ‘You knew all this and you still deported him? You’re crazy.’”