The tag for the Lawrence General Hospital infant crib Robert's mother saved from when he was born there; it has the same date and other information that appears on his official birth certificate.
Robert's Amended Complaint, filed October 4, 2012 by the law office of Gerald Phelps, Halifax, MA
But in 1998, deportation agents interviewed Robert, then 18 years old, at the Middleton jail. They asked him for proof of his claim to U.S. citizenship, "I'm American, I don't need to claim U.S. citizenship. If I'm born here, why do I need to claim it. I'm a U.S. citizen, I'm born here, that's all that matters. I let him know my part."
Robert went back to his cell and thought that was the end of the matter. But when he was released, instead of being picked up by the bus that was supposed to shuttle him to the Lawrence Court House, he was picked up by some guys in green uniforms. "They kidnapped me from Middleton and brought me to New Hampshire, and kept kidnapping me to different systems." Over the course of a couple months, deportation agents ignored his statements about being born in the United States and shuffled him around a few deportation jails in New Hampshire and Massachusetts before taking him to a detention center in Batavia, New York where, he said, "A lot of people were on a hunger strike. 'If you bring me back to my country they're going to kill me.' I'm thinking, What the hell is this place?"
For the first time he was given a copy of some bogus paperwork his parents put together in the 1980s and that Robert didn't know about. Those documents stated, incorrectly, that Robert was born in the Dominican Republic. Robert also has two social security numbers, one from shortly after he was born, and another from after he returned from the DR with his mother.
Robert didn't have an attorney, nor did he have in his possession his certified birth certificate with the same information on the Lawrence hospital bed tag above. And like every single individual on the planet, he lacked first-hand knowledge of where he was born. (An immigration judge once told me that the testimony from respondents about their place of birth is always heresy and should not be credited: the only relevant testimony on this question would be that of a respondent's mother, who is pretty much never present for these proceedings.)
Knowing nothing about documents that Robert himself did not create, had never seen before, could not authenticate, and containing information he could not verify, he conceded alienage and asked the Department of Justice attorney John Reid, an immigration judge, not to deport him because even though he was learning he'd been born in the DR, he'd believed all his life he was a U.S. citizen. The hearing recording reveals Robert telling Reid,
I never have had an immigration problem, getting jobs, being part of a school. It never affected me. They always asked me for my papers and where I was born and I would always tell them I was born here in the United States because that's what I thought all my life, until recently I just found out I was born over there, and I never had any problems with none of that. And if you could really reconsider me not getting deported, I would really appreciate it.
Robert explained, "I got all these very professional American government people right there telling me [I'm not a U.S. citizen] and I'm like, 'Wow...'" Reid, who is still deporting folks from the same court in Batavia, never asked for more information about why Robert thought he was born in the United States. Speaking over a televideo contraption set up in the Batavia, New York detention center--the only attorney in the room with him being the guy working for the government and trying to deport him, Robert begged Reid for mercy, when what he should have been demanding is the enforcement of his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, including a right to an attorney and not what Reid mentioned, a gimmicky list of folks who supposedly would provide pro bono legal services.
The U.S. Constitution requires neither that Robert nor anyone else do something impossible, i.e., recall first-hand the details of her birth, nor that one have legal expertise on the nuances of deportation and citizenship laws. And yet that is exactly what the government is demanding when it deports people, including U.S. citizens, without providing assigned attorneys.
(In many regions, the deportation officers, the IJs, and especially the respondents, know that referencing these provider lists is a pro forma judicial joke at the expense of the respondents and the larger public appalled at what the government is doing in the name of "the people." Some regions have lists that have top-notch nonprofit attorneys who do excellent work but in too many places these lists are distributed only so the agency appears to comply with a regulation requiring the EOIR to maintain such a list. Even if there really is a working number and a real attorney answers, they are not able to provide individual assistance without compensation to every confused kid with a rap sheet who calls them, and indeed that was exactly what Robert said happened, and what he said was common knowledge among the other folks locked up with him. Nonprofits firms and pro bono attorneys are doing great work, just as did individual attorneys before the landmark Gideon case; indeed it is precisely the benefits that some receive as a result of this work that makes clear the importance of a right to assigned counsel for everyone. Robert is not alone; many of the U.S. citizens who are being deported have this happen for very similar reasons: parents creating confusing paper trails that assist perhaps education abroad or their own immigration status, documents that have implications for their children of which the children are entirely unaware.)
The next thing Robert knew is that Reid ordered him deported to the Dominican Republic, and not to return for at least ten years. His file shows a round-trip trip ticket booked on American Airlines from Buffalo, New York to Santo Domingo, leaving on October 13, 1999 and returning on October 14, 1999. Robert, of course, only used half of that ticket. When he finally overcame his fear of being imprisoned for trying to return before ten years, he put together the documents his mother had saved from when he was born in Lawrence, presented them to the U.S. consulate in Santo Domingo, and in 2009 was issued a U.S. passport and used that to purchase with his own funds a ticket home. That passport has since been revoked and is part of Robert's damages in the pending lawsuit.
The next post will describe Robert's time in the DR, including some amazing stories about his work as a telemarketer for global finance firms, including accounts of fraud by AIG and other companies.