In April, the story of Mark Lyttle broke. Mark is a US-born citizen, with a long history of mental illness – most specifically Mark suffers from bi-polar disorder. In late 2008, Mark was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officers and questioned about his citizenship. Because of Mark’s brown skin, agents assumed he was Mexican. Do you know where I’m going with this?
In December of 2008, Mark was loaded onto a plane and deported to Mexico. Thus began his four month journey from Mexico to Hondura (where he was imprisoned) to Guatemala, where he finally found the US Embassy and was granted a passport to come home.
The most shocking aspect of Mark’s case is this: ICE had evidence of his US citizenship. Agents were able to find Mark’s Social Security number, the names of his parents, a record check indicating he was US born and his own testimony that he was a native of Rowan County, North Carolina.
So what happened? Mark was the victim of the broken enforcement and judicial systems currently in place under Federal immigration policy. ICE agents focused on brown skin as the main indicator of documentation did not do their jobs, but rather swept evidence under the rug so as not to exert more effort than need be while deporting yet another “illegal” – for some, this is synonymous with “Mexican”. Need more evidence? Yesterday an AP story ran, reporting that “anti-Mexican discrimination in the US” was growing.
Jacqueline Stevens, a professor at the University of California, has followed Mark’s case closely and cites that it sets an extremely dangerous enforcement precedent. In short, Mark’s case is not singular, but rather the part of a much bigger pattern of neglect, racial profiling and fast-track justice that lead to the erosion of basic rights for everyone, not just immigrants.
Even more shocking are the several thousand of US citizens each year who are not only detained, but also deported. This occurs either because of ICE bullying, a fear of indefinite detention, or because the US government gave their US citizen parents, mostly of Mexican ancestry, incorrect information about their legal status and issued them green cards instead of telling them they were US citizens at birth.
When I told Mark’s attorney, Neil Rambana, that ICE had Mark’s FBI record indicating he was a US citizen, Rambana was furious, “That is the most dangerous precedent I have ever heard. Someone swept a whole heap of dust under a carpet because they didn’t want to do their job. These things are easily identifiable by those who have superior resources, but they failed to exercise an iota of effort.”
As the current administration continues failed enforcement policies and is slow to begin the fight for immigration reform, people should remember cases like Mark’s. People should be outraged.