Thursday, December 24, 2009

Democracy Now Interview on Nation Articles

You can watch the interview here.

The articles occasioning the interview were published recently in The Nation magazine. The one that appeared in the print magazine and online is America's Secret ICE Castles. The ICE Ruse Operations article is a "web exclusive."

Many thanks to those who agreed to be interviewed, including those whose comments space did not permit appearing in these articles. I hope to post a back story piece later and, with permission, will include some of this information there.

I also want to thank, again!, Dan Kowalski, an immigration attorney who runs the Bender's Immigration Bulletin, for his help through his listserve in bringing to my attention people with important stories to share.
update, 01/05/10

A copy of a letter to The Nation written by Hasan appears in a comment below. This letter was retracted at my request because I recently noticed what Hasan called "embellishments" of his background prior to the narrative of being tortured by an ICE agent. Hasan had told me that he had a green card and that the ICE agent destroyed it, but that is not true. Hasan entered the country legally but was later ordered removed; he never had a green card. He also told me that he had several degrees that he does not in fact possess.

Hasan said that he included this information because he had not been taken seriously in conveying allegations about his torture at an ICE subfield office in 2006.

Hasan initially contacted me after reading the article about subfield offices in The Nation online; he is in Pakistan and someone in the US brought this to his attention. After obtaining a formal waiver from Hasan, I was quickly able to obtain a copy of his ICE file. The file is highly redacted but the information available is consistent with the information Hasan gave me regarding the details of his arrest and deportation, including that Hasan was arrested jointly by ICE and an agent from the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force. Hasan had not seen his file before giving me this information.

I will be following up on his account and will report evidence of torture if this can be verified independent of Hasan's narrative.

I post many accounts of people who are mistreated by ICE agents and to date ICE has not provided evidence that would contradict the information these contain. I of course receive numerous other accounts that I do not pursue because I do not trust the narratives and cannot verify them. Hasan had requested that I remove his comment but in the interests of transparency and for the historical record I am leaving it as is and including this explanation.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"Home Sweet Home!" says US Citizen American Government Rendered Stateless

Ten years after being illegally banished from his country, U.S. citizen Johann Francis was reunited with his mother and two sisters in an Atlanta airport early Sunday morning. (For background, please go here.)

On Monday he spent the day figuring out new gadgets, including the shower, and catching up with his family and life in America: "I've been away so long. Readjusting is really something. It's like if you haven't eaten salt in ten years and someone gives you a chimichanga."

When Mark Lyttle returned to the Atlanta airport last spring after he was illegally deported he was held for two days and the government prepared to deport him again, despite a freshly minted US passport. Johann's response to hearing about Mark's experience of being told his passport was fraudulently obtained was, "How stupid do they look? You can just lie and get a passport? Do you know how many people are trying to get into the United States and they're saying you can get one if you just lie?"

In the event, Johann entered the US at the Fort Lauderdale airport Saturday evening with no significant delay. Barbara Gonzalez, an ICE public affairs officer, had transmitted information about his return in advance to the Customs and Border Protection office that had presumably updated his records. Johann also had a sealed letter from the US Consulate in Jamaica and produced this after the agent at the checkpoint was "staring with a confused look at the computer, like he didn't know what to do."

The agent brought Johann to an adjacent room and he sat there with his luggage, not sure what was happening or would happen next, "I got scared, that I'm-in-trouble-feeling, worried it's all going to happen all over again. I was just trying to be calm." 40 minutes later an officer came in and asked Johann two questions, if his mother was single (yes) and how old he was when he had his citizenship (14). But they kept the copy of the letter from the US consulate. Johann said, "I really want that letter. I'm scared."

In Jamaica, Johann had expressed his discomfort with the unfairness of feeling this way, "I feel like I'm doing something wrong, or like they're doing me a favor [by issuing the passport]. I feel like I have to ask a favor of them."

(I have written a note to Barbara Gonzalez asking for procedures US citizens should follow if they want to make sure that earlier wrongful deportations do not haunt them forever--right now the FBI database will indicate that he is illegally in the country and he may be arrested for illegal reentry--and will post the reply when it arrives.)

That feeling of not quite fitting in or being accepted by one's own country emerged repeatedly in our conversations as a burden and also a source of strength. The first time we spoke, Johann told me about speaking with his mother from Jamaica after he'd lost touch with her for almost two years, "Wow, we've been looking for you," she said, "I could hear a sigh of relief that I wasn't dead or hurt somewhere. That was hard, hearing my mother's voice again. It was almost painful. I didn't cry because I was used to being alone. We were in Washington State. I am from Jamaica. There are no Jamaicans in Washington State."

And there weren't many deported US citizens in Jamaica. One of the most difficult challenges Johann endured was hiding his deportation, "I couldn't say, 'Hi my name is Johann Francis and I've been deported from the United States because those people are looked down on. They're outcasts. It's like, you had your chance and you blew it. Why should I help you now?" But Johann could not locate any Jamaican documents to verify his birth there--which he would need for either Jamaican or US citizenship. Although he was by law a US citizen, he was de facto stateless and invented various tax numbers and so forth for later employment.

Hiding his identity was not easy. First, there was the accent. Johann spoke American. He made up a story of going to the US for education and returning to Jamaica by choice. But it also was hard when people believed him. Speaking from Jamaica a few days before returning, Johann said:
"I'm still going with that story up to this day. That was a mental drain, being unable to speak Jamaican without an accent, and I had to go through the whole fabrication. I've been constantly somebody else. I think three people knew my true story. I don't know if you know the psychology, but when you hear a foreign person who speaks another language, when they get upset, they start speaking that language. It's an expression of themselves and who they are and they relate better speaking the language they know and feel frustrated speaking a language they don't know. That's me for ten years. In the seventh or eighth year I started associating myself with other deportees for the sake of wanting to be home in America. That was so wierd. I could relate to them whether I was a citizen or not. I told one or two of them the truth becuase you want to talk to somebody. You want to tell your story."
One interesting piece of Johann's story is a legal misunderstanding on the part of his mother, one that persisted until his seventh or eighth year in Jamaica. His mother knew that Johann had derived US citizenship, the equivalent of citizenship at birth, when he was 14 through her naturalization. She simply assumed that the US would not deport a US citizen and inferred from his deportation that the government had revoked his citizenship. Once they realized that this is not what had transpired, and that Johann had his US citizenship rights stolen by a US government that had flagrantly violated his due process rights, Johann began his quest to return.

Until the government clears up the legal mess it created, Johann is still at risk of arrest, but he is very happy to be back and begin to tell his story.

Friday, December 18, 2009

US Citizen Unlawfully Deported Ten Years Ago Returns Tomorrow

U.S. citizen Johann Francis, 30, unlawfully deported from the United States, returns tomorrow from Jamaica to celebrate Christmas with his family in Atlanta for the first time in ten years.

Why Was Johann Deported?
The quick answer is that the U.S., like other countries, continues to use medieval rules to regulate the movement of people across state boundaries. These regulations were thrown out a few hundred years ago when they were used to restrict movement among villages and they are equally absurd for regulating movement among countries.

Of course even under current laws, US citizens may not be deported. Yet Johann and thousands of other U.S. citizens will tell you that this has happened to them. Johann's story, alas, is a familiar one: a youthful run-in with the law, a couch-surfing mother on the other side of the country, no attorney, and voila, a one-way ticket to Jamaica, the judge telling him, "You're deported forever."

The Facts

Johann a US Citizen. Johann moved to the US with his mother when he was 7, at which time received a green card indicating he was a lawful permanent resident. His mother was not married to his father; his father is not listed on Johann's birth certificate, and his mother always had sole custody of him. Thus, when Johann was 14 and his mother naturalized, he automatically derived US citizenship.

Johann and Mother Cannot Find Each Other. Johann described a childhood of moving around among various military bases as his mother accompanied his stepfather to new posts. After a separation his mother, broke, decided to leave Washington because her employment prospects were better in Atlanta. The timing could not have been worse, "It was January of my senior year. I was very distraught because I wanted to graduate with my friends. I was 18 and working at the Safeway and told my mother, 'Hey, I want to finish, and stay, and graduate.' She said that was fine." However, his mother's economic situation did not improve and she was moving from relative to relative and then motel to motel. Meanwhile, Johann also was having a tough time, also moved, and his mother could not locate him, either.

Johann Goes to Prison. Shortly before Johann was supposed to graduate, he and some friends had a Westside Story encounter in Seaside, Oregon, the result of which was that Johann pled guilty to felonious assault and served one year in the Oregon Shutter Creek prison boot camp, "Boot camp was really important to me because out of the 96 inmates who started, only 26 finished. I was one of the model prisoners there, the guy who carries the flag. I did very well and I was proud that I graduated."

Johann Sent to Detention Center. "On graduation day I was told I couldn't leave because I have an INS hold." Johann said that as far as he knew he was never interviewed by anyone from the INS. Johann said he told the guards in Oregon that he thought he was a US citizen, but when they asked him the year his mother became a U.S. citizen and he couldn't answer, they "shipped me to Arizona, to Eloy."

At this point the line was quiet and I thought maybe we lost the connection. Johann was sobbing and trying to regain composure, explaining that he thought he was a U.S. citizen but had no means of contacting his mother in order to obtain the documents for proving this. "I'm talking to inmates who are in there for two or three years. Are you kidding me? Some are trying to get asylum and my story just sounds impossible. Okay, you're a citizen, too. I don't have any money. I can't afford a lawyer. Nobody knows where I'm at. By the time my mother catches up and finds out that I'm not in Washington or a hospital and that I may be in Oregon, I'm not even there. I'm in Arizona." Johann was in tears, "I didn't know or understand the whole law. I knew they weren't supposed to... But they did. I signed the papers. I signed it. It's my fault and the judge said never to return. I have nightmares. I'm thinking to myself, even if I had a right I could have signed it away." (By the time he was in Eloy, Johann was entirely confused about whether he really was a US citizen. He spent three months there and wanted to leave confinement.)

"It's so amazing what you can do with a coconut, but it 's not a well-balanced diet." Johann's life in Jamaica for the last ten years has been one of despair and resourcefulness, about which I will write more on Monday. One major difficulty was that until 2007 it was impossible to locate one's birth certificate without a number. However, in 2007 a new digital system was put in place, and that's what eventually allowed Johann to track down his certificate and bring it to the US consulate which, along with the legal documents from his mother, proved his US citizenship. On October 30, 2009, Johann received a US passport: "When I got it I told myself, this is the prettiest piece of paper I've ever seen."

Johann endured various diseases associated with malnutrition but eventually found his bearings and, drawing on his high school broadcasting experience, began to independently produce a television show on the local tourist industry for which the businesses paid Johann and Johann paid the television station for air time. Before sending me his photograph Johann explained that they do not do justice to his hardships, "Most of the pictures I have taken are when things are good. People are going to see these and say, 'Wow, this guy looks great. Send me to Jamaica.' How I am now, coming home, is not the meager, malnourished person I was four or five years ago. I didn't want to be the poor puppy that just came home. That's good PR, but that's not me."

In time for Christmas. Johann is scheduled to arrive tomorrow, Saturday, December 19 in Atlanta via Fort Lauderdale. He has a sealed envelope with a letter from the US consulate verifying the authenticity of his US passport. The consular officer realized that Johann might have the sort of experience Mark Lyttle endured on returning with a valid US passport from his unlawful deportation in April, when the government tried to execute and "expedited removal order" and failed to return phone calls from Marks' attorney.

After the Holidays. Even if Johann is successful in returning, the decade old unlawful deportation order remaining in his federal record could easily trigger a new criminal arrest for Illegal Reentry. And, if Johann is pulled over for a speeding ticket, especially in the Atlanta area, it seems likely that he would be once more in the net of ICE. After I called ICE public affairs officer Barbara Gonzalez last spring, ICE agents and attorneys retracted the ICE deportation documents and requested that William Cassidy terminate and vacate his illegal deportation order. Cassidy did so.

I am sending this information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Customs and Border Protection and hope that they are able to begin to offer this minimal and late protection against further unlawful confinement and other forms of government harassment stemming from Johann Francis's unlawful deportation.


How I learned about Johann's travails. On the basis of reading this blog, Johann sent me an email last week. Since then we've spoken on the telephone. The information above is based on those conversations. He contacted me because he wanted to publicize his experience, "People shouldn't have to go through this. Ultimately, if we need a better system in place where we can avoid illegal deportations If I can have a hand in that, that would be good."

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