Even if there wasn't a whole bunch of reasons why immigration policy needed to be fixed already, courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) blog, here's another one. All the necessarily elements of government horror are here; mistreatment of the mentally ill, a Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare, and seriously, this is a perfect example of how someone being treated this badly, even if he had been "guilty" of the victimless crime of immigration, means that something is seriously wrong, policy-wise.
Mark Lyttle, an American citizen with mental disabilities who was wrongfully detained and deported to Mexico and forced to live on the streets and in prisons for months, settled his case against the federal government this week.
Lyttle will receive $175,000 for the suffering he endured after being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), who deported him despite ample evidence that he was a U.S. citizen. The settlement comes after a federal district court in Georgia ruled in Lyttle’s favor in March, holding that the bulk of his claims against the federal defendants should not be dismissed.
The origin of the brush with law and order:
Lyttle's entanglement with immigration authorities began when he was about to be released from a North Carolina jail where he was serving a short sentence for inappropriately touching a worker's backside in a halfway house that serves individuals with mental disorders. Despite having ample evidence that Lyttle was a U.S. citizen – including his social security number, the names of his parents, his sworn statements that he was born in the United States and criminal record checks – officials from the North Carolina Department of Correction referred him to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as an undocumented immigrant whose country of birth was Mexico.
The best part? Lyttle, who suffers from bipolar disorder, is not Mexican in the slightest, and doesn't even speak Spanish. He had never been to Mexico in his life until he was deported there after being held by ICE for 51 days. There, according to ACLU, he was forced to sign a statement admitting he was an illegal immigrant. He was also forced to defend himself without a lawyer.
Once deported, Lyttle spent 125 days in the streets and shelters of Mexico, Honduras, and Nicaragua, without a passport or anything to identify him as an American citizen. An American embassy employee in Guatemala eventually helped him, and he returned home, though:
Even then, ICE officials at the Atlanta airport detained him for six days and attempted to remove him again. Only after the assistance of his family and a lawyer was Lyttle released and the case against him terminated.
$175,000 seems pretty small after that, but good on the ACLU for suing. This is not the first time American citizens have been caught up in immigration snafus, and it probably won't be the last.