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The Wrongful Detention And Deportation Of U.S. Citizens

– Posted in: Immigration Law, Policy & Politics | Deportation And Detention

Ever wonder how a U.S. citizen is mistaken as an immigrant and deported?

The error is not uncommon.

Sometimes the reason is innocent ignorance. Most immigrants do not understand how various provisions of citizenship law work.

They might be a citizen by operation of law but they do not realize it.

Or through a grandparent born in the U.S. who could have passed on such U.S. status to a son or daughter, but they did not claim citizenship for over an entire generation.

Often they know they are a citizen but they do not know how to prove it.

Government blunders may be at fault.  Since most officers also have limited immigration  knowledge, they can likewise miss the boat and not grasp why certain immigrants qualify for citizenship.

Other times, government actions are the product of deliberate neglect.  In these types of situations, the misdeeds are not pardonable.

Whatever the cause, the consequences are steep.

The Impact Of Citizenship Denied Over 20 Years On A Law Which Does Not Exist

An American citizen being deported four times because of a law that doesn’t exist sounds like the plot of a Hollywood movie.

Sadly, this is a true story.

This is the story of Sigifredo Saldana Iracheta.

His claims of citizenship were continuously rejected.

Not once, not twice, not three times.

Four times.

His story illustrates how agency bias, institutionalized within government agencies, can lead to inadequately weighing an immigrant’s claim to citizenship.

It also demonstrates the importance of immigration appeals when a government official, agency, or judge has made a mistake crucial to one’s immigration status.

Of course, wrongful detention and deportation, as the ACLU has documented, occurs in a vast array of case, not limited to just U.S. citizens.  Yet, there seems something extra foul when citizens are the victims.

For more than two decades, Sigifredo Saldana Iracheta kept telling immigration officials he was a U.S. citizen, born to an American father and a Mexican mother in Matamoros, a city just south of the Texas border.  They were not married at the time.

He qualified under the rules for acquisition of citizenship.

Why Was Saldana Denied
Acquisition Of Citizenship?

What is acquisition of citizenship?

Under acquisition of citizenship, if you were born in another country, and at least one of your parents was a U. S. citizen, you may qualify as a U. S. citizen by birth.

Over the years, the rules for acquisition of citizenship have been modified several times. Thus, in order for an unmarried U.S. citizen father to transmit citizenship to his child born abroad, he must meet the requirements in effect at the time of the child’s birth.

In 1964 when Saldana was born, the existing regulations specified that he had to show:

(1) he was legitimated before the age of 21 under the laws of the Mexican state where he resided and  (2) before his birth, his father had resided in the U.S. for ten years, at least five of which were after the age of 14.

All four of the government rejections were based on the first provision.

Undeterred, Saldana would return to the U.S. after being deported and apply for citizenship.

Time after time, immigration authorities took him in custody, denied his claims, then removed him back to Mexico.

He was deported at least four times. At one point, he was detained for nearly two years as he sought permission to join his wife and three children in South Texas.

Mexicans Denied U.S. Citizenship For Decades Under Clause That Doesn’t Exist

For more than two decades, Sigifredo Saldana Iracheta insisted he was a U.S. citizen, repeatedly explaining to immigration officials that he was born to an American father and a Mexican mother in a city just south of the Texas border.

Despite Four Denials, Saldana Refused To Abandon His Citizenship Claim

In rejecting Saldana’s bid for citizenship, Department of Homeland Security officials and attorneys continuously applied an old law citing Article 314 of the Mexican Constitution, which supposedly dealt with legitimizing out-of-wedlock births.

The Constitution of Mexico, argued DHS, stood for the proposition that children born out of wedlock in Mexico could only be legitimated by the subsequent marriage of their parents.

But there was a problem.

The Mexican Constitution has no such law.

At a hearing before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the lawyer for the government explained the mistake on a typo.

The court was not amused.

In response, Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod scolded the government attorney, “You all have been citing this over and over again to people for years now, and you can’t even look it up in Mexican law.”

The judge was correct but may not have gone far enough.

Did Saldana ever have an attorney represent him in the earlier cases?

What about the judges in those earlier cases?

Was anyone awake besides Saldana?

Perhaps worse, it is not known how many immigrants, like Saldana, have been deported under the same flawed interpretation of the non-existent Mexican law.

I agree with the judge.

How could the government cite a law which doesn’t exist?

Although I’m a long time citizenship attorney with over 20 years experience, during which period I’ve experienced many unique fact situations, it is unfathomable the government would commit the same error over and over again.

And I’m amazed Saldana was willing to fight so long and so hard in opposition.

In my view, at minimum, this mistake is professionally unfanthomable.

A few heads in the DHS ranks should have been rolling as soon as the appellate hearing was over and pink slips should have been immediately issued.

How Often Is United States Citizenship Mistakenly Denied? 

Saldana’s ordeal is perhaps the strangest story about the detention and deportation of U.S.citizens that I have ever heard.

It is not, however, the only time U.S. citizens have been taken into ICE custody and suffered undeserved punishment due to government errors, miscues, and misdeeds.

Here’s another story that baffles the imagination.

It confirms that the flawed denial of legitimate citizenship claims is not an uncommon action.

The Story Of Davino Watson

Let’s say you’re a U.S. citizen. ICE mistakenly takes you into custody, thinking you’re an immigrant.

Okay, errors and miscues happen.

Human nature is not infalliable.

If you know that you’re a U.S. citizenship, shouldn’t such mistakes be easy to correct?

A few days.  At most, a few weeks.

Bad assumption.

Davino Watson, a United States citizen, was not released for 1,273 days.  That’s 3 1/2 years in detention.

How does this happen?

According to Paige St. John and Joel Rubin, reporters for the Los Angeles Times, these types of errors “reveal flaws in the way ICE identifies people for deportation, including its reliance on databases that are incomplete and plagued by mistakes.”

Essentially, the wrongful arrests highlight a presumption pervasive among United States  immigration agencies and courts that “those born outside the United States are not here legally unless electronic records show otherwise. And when mistakes are not quickly remedied, citizens are forced into an immigration court system where they must fight to prove they should not be removed from the country, often without the help of an attorney.”

So how often does this happen?

The precise number is unknown. But, as the Times study shared, the number is larger than many might suspect.

In the seven and a half years ending in February, ICE reviewed 8,043 citizenship claims of people in custody.

The figures provided by DHS showed that in 1,488 cases — nearly a fifth of those cases — ICE lawyers concluded the evidence “tended to show that the individual may, in fact, be a U.S. citizen.”

Department of Justice records also show that hundreds more people fighting deportation in immigration court have argued they are citizens.

From 2008 to the start of 2018, judges terminated or suspended removal proceedings against 880 people whose citizenship claims warranted investigation.

If only one person is mistakenly denied citizenship, that’s one too many.

If only one U.S. citizen is wrongfully deported, that’s one too many.

Especially if such outcomes occur due to government misbehavior.

By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics