- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2009

Profiles of some U.S. citizens who have been detained or deported:


Tulsa, Okla.

Hugo Alvarado Jr. was drinking Bud Lites with friends outside his Tulsa, Okla., apartment complex on a sunny Saturday two years ago. Many who lived in the apartments were immigrants, but Alvarado was born in Bakersfield, Calif.

It was 9 p.m. when the immigration officers arrived, Alvarado says.

The approximately 15 people he was with quickly scattered. Alvarado was nabbed. When he was booked, Alvarado says, he refused to give officers his Social Security number because as a citizen he didn’t think he had to.

“An ‘Americano,’ a white person, they wouldn’t ask,” Alvarado says.

Officers made up a Social Security number to write in a blank on their paperwork, he says.

Later, asked again by another officer for his Social Security number, he gave it. But because it was different from the number the first officer had written, he was accused of lying.

He was kept in detention for about two days, until his father brought proof of his citizenship.

Jim Hayes, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says the agency does not intentionally jail U.S. citizens. ___


Mount Pleasant, Texas

On Aug. 16 last year, Juan Manuel Carrillo Jr. was beginning his shift at the Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Mount Pleasant, Texas, when managers began calling workers to the office. His name was called.

“I went and another group of people went. We thought it was a drug test. We didn’t think it was immigration,” Carrillo said in Spanish.

Instead, immigration officials had his name on a warrant. The sweep for illegal workers was one of five in April 2008 at Pilgrim’s Pride plants across the country. About 400 people were taken into custody, Pilgrim’s Pride said. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said 300 were arrested.

Carrillo, who was born in San Diego, was among them. He said he told officers he was a citizen, but his hands and feet were cuffed and he was put in a van and taken to a detention center in Tyler, 40 miles away. He only had a driver’s license on him.

Carrillo protested again and told the driver he was a citizen. The driver told him to shut up.

“I had been working well and everything and no one wanted to listen to someone who was legally here,” Carrillo said. “They need to listen.”

He told officers his passport was at home and the officers went to his apartment to retrieve it. Carrillo said his brother was home at the time. Officers pushed their way in, he said, and began questioning his brother about who lived at the apartment and about their legal status.

After 12 hours in detention, Carrillo was released.

“It makes you feel like a criminal, as if you did something, as if you killed someone,” Carrillo said.

Jim Hayes, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the agency does not intentionally jail U.S. citizens.


RMG CASTRO, 6 (full name not used because citizen is a child)

Corpus Christi, Texas

Monica Castro didn’t see her daughter for three years because the child, a U.S. citizen, was sent to Mexico.

Castro walked out on her common-law husband, Omar Gallardo, and their Shallowater, Texas, trailer home in late November 2003.

Gallardo, an illegal immigrant, wouldn’t give up the nearly 1-year-old child. So Castro, a U.S. citizen, went to the Border Patrol and turned him in. She thought they’d get her daughter back.

Eight hours after the Border Patrol picked up her husband, Castro’s daughter was put in a government vehicle without a child car seat and sent on a more than 300-mile trip to the U.S.-Mexico border.

“It was the last resort I had, to call immigration,” she said. “I know it was wrong and I regret it … but I had a daughter. It really scared me. They said they would help me and when it actually came down to it they changed their story.”

The Border Patrol does not consider the girl “deported” because she could return to the country when she wanted as a U.S. citizen, and was with a parent who had legal custody of her under Texas law.

For three years, all Castro knew was that her daughter was somewhere in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, a city of 1.3 million. There were no phone calls, no photos, no letters.

“I missed all those baby years I could have spent with her,” Castro said, the sadness filtering into her voice. “Nothing can bring back those memories I missed from 1 until she was 4.”

Castro helped law enforcement track down Gallardo with a license plate number her relatives scribbled down when they saw him in Shallowater. He was arrested and told law enforcement officers where to find his daughter.

“When we reunited, me and her, she didn’t know who I was,” Castro said. “She was kicking me. She was pushing me. She was hitting me. She didn’t want nothing to do with me.”

Castro sued the Border Patrol. A federal district court judge dismissed her suit, finding that there were no laws or policies that dictated how agents should act in such a case. However, the 5th Circuit Court reversed the decision and it is now pending in district court.

The Border Patrol declined comment because of the lawsuit.

“At the end of the day, if the Border Patrol has a U.S. citizen child in their custody and a U.S. citizen parent shows up, there is no reason why the Border Patrol should honor the alien parent and have the child sent back with the alien parent,” said Javier Maldonado, a San Antonio attorney.



From: Brooklyn, New York

The story of Kenrick Foncette shows how tricky it can be to decide who is a citizen.

After Foncette served time in jail for burglary, immigration officials tried to deport him three times.

The first two times, a judge resolved the issue. In the meantime, while in prison, Foncette took courses adding up to two years of college and learned carpentry skills.

On May 25, 2004, he was called in by his parole office. When he arrived, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were waiting.

This time, ICE sought to deport Foncette for a 1987 weapons charge and a 1991 attempted robbery. Legal residents who commit certain crimes can be deported under a 1996 law.

Foncette filed a petition for citizenship on Oct. 13, 2004. He stated that his mother, Whilma Virginia Jacob-Foncette, had naturalized three decades earlier. He had entered the country when he was 14 and lived with his mother.

His application was denied. The government argued that his mother did not have legal custody and questioned whether his parents were really separated. An immigration judge ordered him deported to Trinidad and Tobago.

Foncette appealed. His family went to Trinidad to get a copy of the separation hearing. But when they arrived, they learned a 1986 flood had destroyed the records.

At another hearing, the High Court of Trinidad made clear that Foncette’s parents had split. Government attorneys tried to argue that foreign law did not apply. But on Jan. 17, 2007, a federal appeals court found Foncette a U.S. citizen.

At 9 p.m. that night, Foncette was released after nearly three years in detention, without bus fare or the chance to ask family to meet him.

“I lost everything. I had to start all over again,” he said. “When I say everything, I mean everything. Bank account, house, clothing, everything.”



Brownsville, Texas

Three years ago, Heidy Hazel Baires Larios was on her way to a party with friends when they were pulled over by police.

Her friends had beer in the car. She was jailed as a deportable legal resident because she had served six months in 2002 on a conviction of less than a gram of cocaine.

Baires spent the next two years in jail while her claim to U.S. citizenship churned through the system.

“I was praying and never lost my faith. I never lose my faith no matter what. This is a tribulation in life to see how faithful we are. That’s my belief,” said Baires, 32.

Baires was born in El Salvador. Her parents divorced in 1978. Two years later, her father became a U.S. citizen and took custody of her. She joined her father in the U.S. in November 1990.

An immigration judge ruled she was not a citizen because she was not in her father’s custody when he naturalized. But the Board of Immigration Appeals overturned the finding. And the immigration judge accepted school records showing she had been in her father’s custody before she turned 18.

Jim Hayes, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says the agency does not intentionally jail U.S. citizens and that the removal process can help sort out complex citizenship cases.

But attorneys and advocates say the government does a poor job of ensuring it isn’t locking up a U.S. citizen.

“ICE only has to have a reasonable suspicion and immediately they can take that person into custody or put a detainer on the person to prevent the person from being released,” said Ali Beydoun, supervising attorney, of UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic at American University.



Houston, Texas

Leonard Parrish prided himself on being a 50-year-old black man who lived straight and raised five good kids. As a former prison supervisor, he knew what jail was like only from the other side of the bars.

Parrish was born in Newark, N.J., grew up in New York and lives in Texas. Last September, he went to the sheriff’s office in Harris County to clear up three bounced checks written a couple of years earlier for no more than $30 each.

There, he was told he had a strange accent, photographed, fingerprinted, made to strip to his underwear and jailed for nearly 10 hours as an illegal immigrant. The sheriff’s department told the AP that the computer listed his citizenship status as “unknown” because he hadn’t been arrested before.

Parrish is still incredulous when he recounts the story. He said he gave sheriff’s officials his Social Security card and driver’s license, but both were dismissed as possible fakes. He said officers also refused to investigate his citizenship claim.

In the meantime, his wife, a teacher, waited three hours outside the office before she was told what had happened. He was denied use of a phone to call his family.

Parrish said he has received no apology from the sheriff’s office and is now looking for a lawyer. Jim Hayes, the director of Immigration Customs and Enforcement, said ICE had no role in the case. But a month before Parrish’s detention, the Harris County sheriff’s office made an official agreement with ICE to help enforce immigration law. That agreement includes training by ICE, although ICE said none of the officers it trained were involved in Parrish’s case.

“I felt very violated, very violated,” said Parrish, a cafeteria worker. “There is nothing that can take away that thought, that feeling. Never. It will be with me for the rest of my life. I just don’t want it to happen to anyone else.”



San Antonio, Texas

Duarnis Perez and immigration officials played a long cat-and-mouse game across several countries before he was finally found to be a U.S. citizen.

Perez was born in the Dominican Republic and went to the U.S. at 15. He became a citizen when his mother naturalized.

He went to college, but dropped out and turned to selling drugs to pay off his school loans. As he puts it, “I tried to get the fast and easy way out.”

In 1995, Perez was sentenced to three years’ probation for a guilty plea to a drug charge. During probation, he was sent a deportation order. When he showed up for his hearing, he says, the attorney whom he’d paid $2,500 was nowhere to be found.

Perez’s deportation was rescheduled and he was held for six weeks in detention. He says he told the court that his mother had become a citizen and he too was one. But he said he was ignored.

He was put on a plane from Boston to the Dominican Republic, where his mother still owned a home.

From there, Perez used his green card to get to Haiti and then to Canada. From Canada, he rode in a bus across the border and lived in New York as an “illegal” immigrant for three years.

A year later, he was in a car with a friend who was pulled over. When Perez couldn’t produce a driver’s license, he was arrested again.

He was sent first to a New York detention center known as “The Tombs” for its lack of light and then to prison on Riker’s Island. After a month he was extradited to Rhode Island and released.

“I walked out of the courthouse that same day. I was so scared I just jumped on one of them Greyhound buses back to New York City … The next thing I hear, they go to my house and they start looking for me,” Perez says.

After a month in New York, he returned to Rhode Island to see his mother. One day, he and his brother spotted a Camaro that passed them but then turned around. His brother yelled: Run! Run!

Perez hid in a tiny closet in his mother’s house for hours. He says he heard immigration officers questioning his mother and brother, cursing them and threatening to shoot him if they found him. One of the officers looked inside the closet but missed him.

After the officers left, Perez hid in his mother’s trunk as she drove across the Connecticut border.

He left the next day for the Dominican Republic. There, he worked at a hotel long enough to earn the money for a trip back to the United States. He flew to Canada and crossed the border “illegally.”

Yet again, he left for the Dominican Republic, and yet again tried to get into the U.S. This time his train from Canada to New York was stopped, and immigration agents asked passengers to produce identity documents. Perez was taken into custody.

This time he was shackled, handcuffed and sentenced to 57 months in prison for re-entering the country “illegally.” That’s when he landed in jail in Fort Dix.

Another detainee helped Perez research the law on U.S. citizenship, and he got his mother to give the information to a Rhode Island lawyer. After almost five years, an immigration officer asked Perez three questions, made a phone call to Newark and verified he was not an illegal immigrant.

But an hour later, two New Jersey detectives showed up. They locked him up again, in a county jail in Trenton. His mother didn’t know and waited all night outside the Fort Dix jail, sleeping in a gas station.

When she learned he was in Trenton, she took out a $5,000 loan on her home to bail him out.

“It’s really crazy they can do this to people,” Perez says. “Who knows how many others are back at home, who didn’t do what I did because they didn’t have a family who stood up and helped them?”

A judge dismissed Perez’ lawsuit against the government, saying the government couldn’t have known he was a citizen.

“There is no justice here,” he says. “Justice is for people who have cash. Martha Stewart spent a couple years in jail for tax evasion. I did more time than her.”



South Bend, Wash.

Omar Jorge Perez Moreno was arrested when he was 20 for living with his 14-year-old girlfriend.

He says he didn’t know his relationship with her constituted statutory rape. But he pleaded guilty as advised, served 2 1/2 months in prison and began three years of probation.

After he was released, Perez Moreno went back to his work at an oyster processing plant. But he failed to keep a couple of his probation appointments, which led to a warrant for his arrest. On May 26 last year, police pulled Perez Moreno over for driving over the speed limit and the warrant popped up.

Perez Moreno was sentenced to 40 days in prison. After 25 days, an immigration officer said he would be shifted to immigration custody.

Suddenly Perez Moreno was facing deportation to Mexico. He saw others who had been in detention for years while fighting for their claim to citizenship. He was “desesperado,” he said. Hopeless. He started making plans for a life in Mexico.

“I just didn’t want to sit there. I had to get out. I couldn’t take it any more,” he said. “Nobody likes their freedom taken away.”

One morning an officer woke him up and told him the Northwest Immigration Rights Project wanted to speak to him. Melissa Williams Avelar asked him a few questions. Did his family have legal residency? When did his dad become a citizen? She quickly determined Perez Moreno is a citizen.

“I was like, what?” Perez Moreno said. “I was extremely happy at that point. It’s an unexplainable feeling. I was in shock. I had no words.”

The day after his release, Perez Moreno reported to the country sheriff as required for registered sex offenders. He went back to his job at the oyster processing plant.

Fluent in Spanish and English, he would like to be a translator.

“I know this is a chance that God gave me because not a lot of people get these chances,” he said.

Even though he didn’t know he was a citizen, he says immigration should have.

“It’s their job to know what they do,” Perez Moreno said. “It’s their job to know who is in there and why they are in there and go the extra mile to make sure they don’t have U.S. citizens in there like they did me.”



Mansfield, Texas

Alicia Rodriguez still aches over missing her son’s first day of kindergarten.

Rodriguez is a third-generation American who speaks only English. She was driving home on a Sunday night when police pulled her over. They had a warrant for two unpaid tickets for driving without insurance and an expired car registration.

At the station, police ran her name through a national crime database. The database declared her an illegal immigrant. She was booked, fingerprinted and put in a holding cell. Police thought she was another Alicia Rodriguez, an illegal immigrant with the same name, birthday and height.

She slept on a bedroll in a cell that night. The next morning she was called out of the cafeteria while eating breakfast. She thought she was going home. That’s when she learned for the first time why she was being held.

“They told me they thought I was an illegal immigrant. … They did not believe I was a citizen,” she said, the astonishment fresh in her voice.

Rodriguez said she asked whether her fingerprints matched those of the other woman, but her question was ignored. She was chained to others and loaded into a van headed for another jail.

She pleaded desperately with the driver that she was an American and had voted in every election since she turned 18. He didn’t believe her.

At the second jail, panic struck. She couldn’t breathe and medics were called to administer oxygen.

After lunch she was finally released. Her sister had gone to the courthouse to buy a new copy of Alicia’s birth certificate. But by then, her son Jude was already well into the school day.

“He did ask, ‘Mommy, it was my first day, where were you?’” said Rodriguez, of Mansfield, Texas. “It’s heart-wrenching. He’s my son.”

Rodriguez acknowledges she should have paid her tickets, but argues that more effort should have been made to verify who she was.

“If my name was not what my name is, if my skin color was not what my skin color is, I would have gone in, paid my fine, and it would have been over in two hours,” Rodriguez said.

Jim Hayes, the director of Immigration Customs and Enforcement, said Rodriguez was never in ICE custody. He said if she was held, it was by the Arlington Police Department because of the traffic charge.

“Did we question her? Yes. We determined she was not amenable to removal. I believe there was evidence she was a U.S. citizen,” Hayes said.

Hayes said he did not know at what point ICE determined she was a citizen. “You are assuming I read the file,” he said.

Arlington police spokesman Lt. Blake Miller said the agency only holds people on immigration violations if asked to by ICE.



Gresham, Ore.

On May 5, 2007, Jose Manuel Gonzalez Villavicencio was sitting in a chair in an immigration office waiting room. He had an appointment to replace his temporary green card with a permanent one.

The next thing he knew, he had three immigration officers standing by him. They took him outside and handcuffed him.

He’d been in trouble with the law before. When he was 16, he had a child by a girlfriend who was a year or two younger. When he turned 18, he was charged with having sex with a minor. He pleaded no contest and was given a 45-day sentence.

ICE officers used that conviction as a reason to deport him, along with other minor crimes such as marijuana possession and carrying a concealed weapon.

In detention, Villavicencio said, he had only one thought: “My son.” Villavicencio said he considered agreeing to deportation simply to see his son again.

The officers wrote a warrant for him while he was in custody, he said. They told him it was their way of wishing him Happy Cinco de Mayo.

His mother hired an attorney with $500 Villavicencio had set aside to pay his electric bill. But the attorney’s office sent a paralegal and stopped working on his behalf when the money went dry.

Villavicencio then found a number for a non-profit group, Northwest Immigration Rights Project, which after a couple of minutes with him discerned he was likely a citizen. By the next day, the research was done to show his mother had naturalized while he was under 18, making him a citizen.

He was released after two weeks in detention. But by then, he had lost his minimum wage job at Wendy’s. He was offered some work, but the hours were few.

His electricity was turned off when he failed to pay the bill because the money went to the law firm instead. He wants the money back.

“I get out and my electricity turns off,” he said. “So I’m sitting here broke, without a penny.”

(This version CORRECTS city where Alvarado was born to Bakersfield, Calif.))

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