Saturday, February 24, 2024

Hispanic American Citizens Detained as Illegal Immigrants

In a report by the Associated Press, American citizens, many who are Latino, have been detained as illegal immigrants in recent years. In a month long AP investigation, 55 such cases were documented on the basis of interviews, lawsuits and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Immigration lawyers say there are actually hundreds of such cases. It is illegal to deport U.S. citizens or detain them for immigration violations. Yet, citizens many of them Hispanic, still end up in detention because the system is overwhelmed, according to Victor Cerda, who oversaw Immigration and Customs Enforcement and left in 2005. This year the number of detentions overall is expected to rise by about 17 percent to more than 400,000.

The detention of these citizens is due to various factors. Many are mentally ill, minorities, poor, children, or have outstanding criminal warrants, ranging from unpaid traffic tickets to failure to show up for probation hearings. AP found the majority of those citizens detained were Hispanic.

Pedro Guzman, an American citizen from Los Angeles, was in jail in 2007 for a misdemeanor, mentally ill and unable to read or write. He signed a waiver agreeing to leave the country without a hearing and was deported to Mexico as an illegal immigrant.

For almost three months Guzman slept on the streets, bathed in filthy rivers and ate out of trash cans. He was finally found trying to cross the border to the United States at Calexico, 100 miles away.

Now safe back in California, his brother Michael Guzman says, “We just talk to him and reassure him that everything is fine and nobody is going to hurt him.”

Bruce Einhorn, a retired immigration judge said “The more the system becomes confused, the more U.S. citizens will be wrongfully detained and wrongfully removed. They are the symptom of a larger problem in the detention system. … Nothing could be more regrettable than the removal of our fellow citizens.”

Jim Hayes, ICE director of detention and removal, said he is aware of only 10 cases of U.S. citizens detained over the past five years. Hayes says this is not “an epidemic” and refused to identify any cases, citing privacy laws.

He added that agents investigate any claims to U.S. citizenship, but they often turn out to be false. Hayes mentioned U.S. citizens sometimes claim to be foreign-born, and that immigration officials never hold someone who they determine is a citizen.

It’s impossible to know exactly how many citizens have been detained or deported because nobody keeps track.

Kara Hartzler, an attorney at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in Arizona, testified at a U.S. House hearing last year that her group alone sees 40 to 50 jailings a month of people with potential claims to be citizens.

The nonprofit Vera Institute for Justice found 322 people with citizenship claims in 13 immigration prisons in 2007, up from 129 the year before. That number does not include possible citizens in the nation’s more than 300 other immigration prisons.

Immigration detentions have soared since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Since that time, Congress has failed to pass immigration reform.

According to a Pew Hispanic Center survey, almost more than one in 10 Hispanic adults born in the U.S. were stopped by police and asked about their immigration status in 2007.

Associated Press