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."
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."