April 09, 2009

U.S. Citizens Detained, Deported, or Convicted as Aliens

By: Jacqueline Stevens

The following summarizes key findings from my recent research on U.S. citizens who have been detained, deported, or convicted of immigration crimes predicated on alienage. I am compiling this in the context of other narratives from government officials, immigration attorneys, criminal public defense attorneys, and US citizens for submission to a peer-reviewed journal but thought this information should be publicly available in the meantime.

The reports on the US citizens detained in the Eloy and Florence areas are based on my personal inspection of more than 2,000 individual case files maintained by the nonprofit Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project. They provide legal support for pro se representation to all detainees held in Florence or Eloy and maintain files for approximately one-third of the detainees.

Between March 23 and March 25, 2009 I went through all the case files for Florence detainees for 2008 and all the cases files that were classified as possible terminations for detainees held in Eloy from 2006-2008.

The FIRRP attorneys are responsible for much appreciated access to their files, and for putting up with a stranger occupying their conference room for three long days, but they did not direct my research in any way.

In addition to the results below, this research yielded many other disturbing findings I will describe in future postings.


--I saw files for at least 65 US citizens who were held in the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona between January 1, 2006 and December 31, 2008.

--I read files for at least 15 US citizens who were held in jails or ICE-run detention centers in nearby Florence, Arizona between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2008.

--One percent of the cases in FIRRP files were for US citizens. If this rate holds for the United States, then about 10,000 US citizens have been put into removal proceedings since 2003.

--In at least five cases, DHS trial attorneys appealed the immigration judge's order terminating proceedings on grounds of US citizenship. In each of the cases the BIA affirmed the order terminating the deportation proceedings, but the delay added months to years to the time the US citizens were held in detention.

--In an additional five cases that have been previously unreported in the media, US citizens who had produced birth certificates indicating birth in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, or California were held as unlawful immigrants in detention centers in Eloy or Florence.

--There are many other cases in which individuals with proof of being citizens by birth are receiving adverse judgments by immigration judges and BIA judges who are writing decisions that defy law and evidence.


I saw documents in a file for a 17 year-old who was born in Colorado and raised in Mexico. When he returned to the United States with his birth certificate, a border patrol guard tore it up in front of him and told him it was fraudulent. He told the kid, Michael, not his real name, that he could dispute this by being handcuffed and brought to a detention center, or he could sign a document stipulating he was a Mexican citizen and be released.

Go to jail with scary, mean guys who just tore up your birth certificate or sign a get-out-of-jail-notsofree card? The kid chose the latter.

Michael tried returning again, was caught, and this time decided to stick it out. The immigration judge relied on his statement of Mexican citizenship signed under duress and ignored the three inch thick file documenting his birth in the United States, including a birth certificate, a photo from when the kid was about 8 years old in which you can see the exact same birth certificate in his hand, and a hospital report on his newborn reflexes taken several minutes after birth.

Michael has been removed to Mexico and stripped of his citizenship rights.


Today's LA Times article states: "'ICE does not detain United States citizens,' said spokesman Richard Rocha, adding that agents thoroughly investigated people's claims of citizenship. 'ICE only processes an individual for removal when all available facts indicate that the person is an alien.'"

Since in some cases, the DHS attorneys are themselves withdrawing the notices to appear, this statement is demonstrably false.

For instance, one guy was held in Eloy for two and half months in 2007 before the trial attorney filed a motion to withdraw the removal order on grounds of the detainee's US citizenship. I have documented similar cases and I know from conversations with DHS officials that they are also aware of this.

I have additional information on US citizens in removal proceedings--I've documented over 160 cases in recent years of individuals whose claims to US citizenship have been affirmed by an immigration judge, USCIS agent, jury, or federal judge and yet who at some point were detained, deported, or convicted of immigration crimes predicated on alienage.

Also, there are the potentially viable claims that cannot be pursued even as far as Michael's, who actually had a birth certificate.

Some files had what appear to be legitimate claims but the detainees decided not to pursue them. E.g., - a sleeve note by a Florence attorney states: Dad USC, died 20 years ago” “R has a cta which has USC dad's name on it. BUT R doesnt have anything else and probably not means to get it. If he wants he can turn in generic deriv. w. [illegible] that he is an USC. But w/o more data claim will be denied.”

The attorney was advising the client on a pro se basis and knew that an indigent felon didn't have the resources to track down the necessary documents to show his father's residence and work history in the United States.

Okay, that's all the new stuff for now. More to come.


No comments: