EVANSTON, Ill. --- Thousands of U.S. citizens across the country are being held in prison until they can prove their U.S. citizenship, even though the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) lacks authority to hold U.S. citizens, according to a report in the latest issue of the Virginia Journal of Social Policy and the Law, available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1931703/.
Jacqueline Stevens, professor of political science at Northwestern University and an expert on the practices of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), reports on several previously unpublished cases in the journal. Mario Guerrero, a California truck driver, was deported and then, on his return, charged with False Personation of a U.S. Citizen. He was incarcerated for seven years for immigration violations, even though he acquired U.S. citizenship at birth from his father, also a U.S. citizen, a fact the government finally recognized in 2007.
In another case, a man born in Lawrence, Mass., was deported to the Dominican Republic when he was 19. It took “William” more than a decade before his U.S. citizenship was recognized in 2009.
“Some of these U.S. citizens found the Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody so physically and emotionally debilitating that they capitulated to ICE officers who pressured them to sign statements falsely conceding their lack of U.S. citizenship,” Stevens said. “They preferred deportation to ICE confinement.”
Stevens’ research on southern Arizona records found 82 people locked up in immigration jails between 2006 and 2008 whose deportation orders were terminated by Department of Justice (DOJ) adjudicators because of U.S. citizenship. She found that most were held for more than one month and five were held for more than one year. Because of the size of the study and the findings’ consistency with other studies, Stevens concludes that among the approximately 400,000 people held this year by ICE, 4,000 will be U.S. citizens.
To ascertain the rate at which U.S. citizens are in ICE custody, Stevens reviewed data from more than 8,000 files maintained by the country's largest federally funded legal orientation program for 2006 to 2008. She also examined 2010 email traffic on assertions of U.S. citizenship by those in ICE custody from November 2009 to March 2010 obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, interviews with immigration attorneys and immigration judges and a report by a New York City Bar Association.
The plurality of U.S. citizens held in southern Arizona whose civil and constitutional rights ICE violated were young men of Mexican descent who had recently completed criminal sentences in California for marijuana possession. Some, despite acquiring citizenship at birth, were issued green cards on entering the country and deported following minor convictions as teenagers, unlike U.S. citizens of European descent with similar histories. Others agreed to deportation in lieu of appeals, preferring life in Mexico to an indefinite lockup in unregulated ICE facilities.
Stevens attributes these incidents to DHS and DOJ racial profiling and coverups of their agencies’ misconduct, including preventing those incarcerated from meeting with the media and other visitors, and limiting access to immigration hearings in detention centers, thus hiding from public scrutiny agents' perjured statements and abuse of those in their custody.In the journal article “U.S. Government Unlawfully Detaining and Deporting U.S. Citizens as Aliens,” Stevens’ key recommendation is to provide those in immigration jail custody the same legal protections as those serving prison sentences, including a regulated facility and an ICE-funded attorney if the respondent cannot afford one.