February 14, 2008

Feds Admit Mistakenly Jailing Citizens as Illegal Immigrants

WASHINGTON — A top Immigration and Customs Enforcement official acknowledged Wednesday that his agency has mistakenly detained U.S. citizens as illegal immigrants, but he denied that his agency has widespread problems with deporting the wrong people.

Gary Mead, ICE's deputy director of detention and removal operations, testified during a House of Representatives subcommittee hearing that U.S. citizens have been detained on "extremely" rare occasions, but he blamed the mix-ups on conflicting information from the detainees.

Nonetheless, Mead said his agency is reviewing its handling of people who claim to be U.S. citizens "to determine if even greater safeguards can be put in place."

The testimony before the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law came after immigration advocates told McClatchy that they'd seen a small but growing number of cases of U.S. citizens who've been mistakenly detained and sometimes deported by ICE. They accuse agents of ignoring valid assertions of citizenship in the rush to deport more illegal immigrants.

Unlike suspects charged in criminal courts, detainees accused of immigration violations don't have a right to an attorney, and three-quarters of them represent themselves.

Last month, Thomas Warziniack, a U.S. citizen who was born in Minnesota and grew up in Georgia, was mistakenly detained for weeks in an Arizona immigration facility and told that he was going to be deported to Russia.

Warziniack, 40, was released after his family, who learned about his predicament from a McClatchy Newspapers reporter, produced his birth certificate.

In another high-profile example, ICE agents in California mistakenly deported Pedro Guzman, a mentally disabled U.S. citizen, to Mexico. Guzman was found months later when he tried to return to the United States.

Mead contended that both Warziniack and Guzman said they were illegal immigrants, and he said ICE agents have to be careful not to release the wrong people. Guzman and Warziniack had been serving time for minor offenses when their jailers turned them over to immigration authorities.

For the full story, see "Feds admit mistakenly jailing citizens as illegal immigrants," by Marisa Taylor, McClatchy Tribune (02/14/2008)

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