Monday, August 31, 2009
The U.S. government admitted in April that it had wrongly deported an N.C. native, but newly released documents show that federal investigators ignored FBI records and other evidence showing that the man was a United States citizen.
At the time of Mark Lyttle's deportation, immigration officials had criminal record checks that said he was a U.S. citizen. They had his Social Security number and the names of his parents. They had Lyttle's own sworn statement that he had been born in Rowan County.
None of this stopped them from leaving Lyttle, a mentally ill American who speaks no Spanish, alone and penniless in Mexico, where he has no ties.
Lyttle's 350-page Department of Homeland Security file, released to The (Raleigh) News & Observer, shows that the government deported him based entirely on some of his own conflicting statements, even though agents knew that Lyttle is bipolar and has a learning disability.
“I tried to tell them I was a U.S. citizen born right here in Rowan County,” Lyttle says now. “But no one believed me.”
Lyttle is one of a growing number of people who have been swept up in the federal immigration detention system since 2001, when terrorist attacks prompted an unprecedented effort to find and deport illegal immigrants. The U.S. government deported 350,000 people in the fiscal year that ended in October 2008.
When The N&O first reported on Lyttle's case in April, officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, said that Lyttle had caused the mistake by declaring that he was from Mexico. They maintain that position now.
“Individuals who misrepresent their true identity and make false statements to ICE officers create problems both for law enforcement and themselves,” ICE spokesman Ivan Ortiz-Delgado said in a written statement.
Lyttle swore to immigration agents on two occasions that he was Mexican, but he also swore that he was a U.S. citizen born in Rowan County. His Homeland Security file does not reflect any attempt by ICE officials to confirm Lyttle's citizenship claims.
The agent who took Lyttle's statement that he was born in North Carolina dismissed it, saying in a report that Lyttle “does not possess any documentation to support his claim.”
A few dozen pages were withheld from the file released by ICE. But the file provided to The N&O shows no search for a Rowan County birth certificate and no attempts to reach the family members Lyttle named before his initial deportation.
The ICE file states that Lyttle's Mexican citizenship “was established based on interview results and numerous background system checks.” But repeated background checks, from an FBI fingerprint database and the National Crime Information Center, showed he was an American citizen.
Asked by The N&O why they had not accepted the findings in these background checks, ICE officials said they were reviewing their information and could not provide a response after a week.
The inconsistencies in his case were not discussed when Lyttle appeared before an Atlanta immigration judge and was ordered deported on Dec.9. On Dec. 18, he was loaded onto a plane and left at an airport just across the border from Hidalgo, Texas.
On Dec. 29, he returned to the U.S. border threatening to hurt himself and the border patrol agents. “Subject appears to be mentally unstable,” the report notes.
Lyttle, who now lives with his mother in Georgia, says that during his travels he didn't take medications that treat his mental illness and was subject to cycles of manic activity and depression.
Lyttle again told immigration agents he had been born in Rowan County. This time the file shows that they checked for his birth certificate there. They didn't find it because Lyttle is adopted. In cases of adoption, birth certificates are stored in Raleigh, said Shirley Stiller, the deputy register of deeds in Rowan County.
Lyttle was deported a second time, within hours. With no documents to prove legal residency in any country, he soon found himself on an international odyssey.
Mexican authorities sent him to Honduras, where he was imprisoned before being sent to Guatemala.
In late April, he found the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City. Within a day, officials there contacted Lyttle's brother at the military base where Lyttle told them he was serving, got copies of his adoption papers and issued him a U.S. passport.
Three days after his arrival in Guatemala City, his brother had wired him money and Lyttle was on a flight to Atlanta.
U.S. Immigration officials worked Lyttle's case for 31/2 months and held him in immigration detention for more than six weeks.
“This is not rocket science,” said Jacqueline Stevens, a professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara who brought Lyttle's case to light on her blog and is now writing a book about it. “It took someone in Guatemala one day to prove he was a citizen.”
Lyttle, 32, has spent much of his adulthood bouncing among mental institutions, halfway houses and prisons. He has been convicted of more than a dozen crimes, including assault and sexual battery.
He also lost touch with his mother, who had moved during his time in prison, and did not have phone numbers for his two brothers, who are in the military. His father is deceased.
When he entered prison, his country of birth was listed as Mexico. Prison officials say Lyttle made that claim, but in an interview with The N&O, Lyttle said he never invented such a story. Regardless, he was flagged for a federal immigration check.
In September and November 2008, he met with immigration agents three times, each time signing a different sworn statement.
Lyttle says he claimed to be Mexican at the first interview because he thought it was pointless to argue with the agent, who was convinced that he was an illegal immigrant. His birth father was Puerto Rican, and Lyttle says he is often mistaken for Mexican.
He says he figured he would take a free trip to Mexico.
Read article: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/local/story/917007.html
Friday, August 28, 2009
All inmates booked into jails throughout Los Angeles County will have their
immigration status checked beginning today, but federal officials said they
don’t have the resources to deport all illegal immigrants with criminal records
who are identified.
Read more: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2009/08/all-la-county-inmates-will-have-immigration-status-checked-as-part-of-new-program.html
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Published: August 24, 2009
New York Times
In a city with a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to immigration
status, it may come as a surprise to many that the New York Department of
Correction routinely gives a list of foreign-born inmates at Rikers
Island to immigration authorities, who use it to question, detain and try to
deport thousands of them.
At least 13,000 Rikers inmates have been placed in
deportation proceedings since 2004 through this practice, a coalition of
immigrant advocacy groups has learned from data obtained in a Freedom of
Information Act request. The groups, and their lawyers at the Immigrant
Justice Clinic of Cardozo School of Law, will discuss the findings and start
a protest campaign Tuesday morning at Judson Memorial Church in Lower
Read more about local-federal collaboration and this new campaign: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/25/nyregion/25rikers.html
Monday, August 24, 2009
While federal officials are planning to move families seeking American
citizenship from a Texas detention center that is closing to a Berks County
shelter, the county commissioners are considering getting out of the
The Family Center in Bern Township is the only other
facility in the country that houses families awaiting hearings or the results of
hearings on requests to stay in the U.S.But with tight economic times, the Berks
County commissioners may end up closing the Bern Township center, which opened
in 2001.So far, no definite plans have been made to shut down the 84-bed center
housing detained immigrant families captured at the borders and in other
Closing the facility would mean the loss of 50 county jobs, officials
said.But the county isn't profiting from the money the U.S. Immigration and
Customs Enforcement service pays the county for housing the detainees .
"At the initial stages we were permitted to make a profit, but now we are breaking even on it," Commissioner Chairman Mark C. Scott said. "We have been helpful to the federal government for a decade.
Read More: http://www.readingeagle.com%2farticle.aspx%3fid%3d153458
Published: August 20, 2009
New York Times
In the fall of 2006, a man’s death brought a team of government
investigators to the large, privately run immigration
jail in Eloy, Ariz., in the desert between Phoenix and Tucson. Medical care was
so poor, the team later warned federal immigration officials, that “detainee
welfare is in jeopardy.”
Another death there soon spurred another inquiry, and another scathing
report was issued about the care provided by the private company, the Corrections Corporation of
But the government scrutiny did not add up to much for Felix
Franklin Rodriguez-Torres, 36, an Ecuadorean construction worker who wound up in
Eloy that fall as an unauthorized immigrant after being jailed for petty larceny
in New York City. By mid-December, a fellow detainee told the man’s relatives,
Mr. Rodriguez lay pleading for medical help on the floor of his cell, unable to
He died weeks later of testicular cancer, a typically fast-growing but
treatable disease, which had gone undiagnosed and untreated during his two
months at Eloy, which holds more than 1,500 detainees. And despite a high-level
discussion of his case among federal immigration officials while he was dying —
captured in e-mail
messages between Washington and Arizona — his death on Jan. 18, 2007, was
not listed on the roster of detention fatalities that the agency produced under
pressure last year and updated in April.
His death, and the damning reports that preceded it, are coming to light
now only through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the American
Civil Liberties Union. On Monday, after
inquiries about Mr. Rodriguez’s death by The New York Times, the Immigration and Customs
Enforcement agency added his name and nine others to the public
roster — including another unrecorded detainee death at Eloy, in 2005.
READ MORE: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/21/nyregion/21detain.html
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Monday the agency is
no longer using arrest quotas in a program aimed at tracking down immigrants who
have ignored court orders to leave the country. [...]
Agency records from ICE's fugitive operations program show that beginning
in 2004, teams were assigned to arrest at least 125 so-called fugitive
immigrants. In 2006, each team's quota was increased to 1,000 fugitive
Immigrant advocates voiced outrage at the quotas and accused agents
of racial profiling to net more arrests. An internal ICE report released earlier
this year showed that agents arrested two dozen Latinos at a Maryland
convenience store in 2007 after their supervisor told them to boost arrests
because they were behind reaching their goal. [...]
Morton also said he expects a relatively new program that lets local law
enforcement check arrestees' immigration status eventually could reduce the need
to train local officers to run immigration checks in jails.
dubbed "Secure Communities", gives local law enforcement access to an
immigration database. That way, when an arrestee's fingerprints are taken, their
immigration history is checked along with their criminal background. ICE aims to
finish rolling out the program nationwide in 2013.
Immigrant advocates said
they worry that both Secure Communities and the jail check program can lead
local police to carry out minor arrests with the intent of checking a person's
Read more: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5i7YH6upLaKMMA47eojCQU8F1F9UAD9A4VE280
Published: August 17, 2009
New York Times
More than one in 10 deaths in immigration
detention in the last six years have been overlooked and were omitted from an
official list of detainee fatalities issued to Congress in March, the Obama
administration said Monday.
Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/18/us/18immig.html
Editorial, New York Times
When the government cracks down on illegal crossings while refusing to establish
a safe, sane alternative, funneling people into the remotest stretches of a
burning desert, it shares responsibility for the awful results. One of those
results is plastic bottles. Another is corpses.
Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/16/opinion/16sun2.html
Thursday, August 13, 2009
SAN ANTONIO —
A planned overhaul of the immigration detention system might result in
fewer concrete cells and lower fences — but it won't mean more releases, even
with electronic ankle monitors, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director
John Morton said Wednesday. [...]
Morton told The Associated Press on Wednesday that "I don't think the
overall number of detention beds will decrease significantly. It will remain
roughly the same."
The agency will still look at whether alternatives, like electronic
monitoring, can be used to ensure immigrants attend court hearings and comply
with deportation orders — but will not use them to replace the housing of
substantial numbers of people in government-funded facilities, he said.
Read more: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gA2owGnC9gfBtXUWA2WyGiNJWrugD9A1KI7O0
Published: August 11, 2009
New York Times
EL PASO — A day after President
Obama announced that legislation to overhaul immigration
laws would have to wait until next year, the secretary of homeland security
played down the need for change in a speech here and took a tough stance on
enforcing current immigration laws. [...]
Her remarks disappointed advocates for immigrants, who questioned whether
increasing enforcement would improve security as much as overhauling immigration
“How many more millions if not billions of dollars are we going to put
into the border without fixing the immigration system?” asked Ali Noorani,
executive director of the National Immigration Forum.Joshua
Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee
Rights, said of Ms. Napolitano, “She’s increasing enforcement of laws that
President Obama and she have both said are broken, and the result is going to be
a lot of human misery.”
Ms. Napolitano and other administration officials have argued that a
tough stance on illegal immigration is necessary to convince American voters to
accept a wider overhaul that would give legal status to millions of foreigners.
Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/12/us/12border.html
Thursday, August 6, 2009
New York Times
Published: August 5, 2009
The Obama administration intends to announce an ambitious plan on Thursday
to overhaul the much-criticized way the nation detains immigration
violators, trying to transform it from a patchwork of jail and prison cells to
what its new chief called a “truly civil detention system.”
Details are sketchy, and even the first steps will take months or years to
complete. They include reviewing the federal government’s contracts with more
than 350 local jails and private prisons, with an eye toward consolidating many
detainees in places more suitable for noncriminals facing deportation — some
possibly in centers built and run by the government.
The plan aims to establish more centralized authority over the system,
which holds about 400,000 immigration detainees over the course of a year, and
more direct oversight of detention centers that have come under fire for
mistreatment of detainees and substandard — sometimes fatal — medical care.
READ MORE: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/06/us/politics/06detain.html
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Recently, the Donald Wyatt Center in Rhode Island lost its contract with U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house 153 immigrant prisoners after
the horrific death of a detainee. Center representatives publicly bemoaned the
loss of $100,000 per week and quickly began looking for a way to get more
prisoners. The chairman of the board for the center, Daniel Cooney, said,
“Frankly, I’m looking at it like I’m running a Motel 6. I don’t care if it’s
Guantanamo Bay. We want to fill the beds.” He was eventually fired in the
fallout from this remark, but his candor is revealing. Immigrant prisoners are
valuable commodities to local jails. This approach boosts the economies of
private prison companies and municipalities but costs the federal government
millions—perhaps billions—of dollars.
Read more: http://www.warresisters.org/node/791
Published: August 3, 2009
New York Times
After early pledges by PresidentRead more: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/04/us/politics/04immig.html
Obama that he would moderate the Bush administration’s tough policy on immigration
enforcement, his administration is pursuing an aggressive strategy for an
illegal-immigration crackdown that relies significantly on programs started by
A recent blitz of measures has antagonized immigrant groups and many of Mr.
Obama’s Hispanic supporters, who have opened a national campaign against them,
including small street protests in New York and Los Angeles last week.
“We are expanding enforcement, but I think in the right way,” Janet
Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, said in an