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Tom Head

U.S. Government Detaining, Deporting U.S. Citizens

By June 10, 2008

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Background: What is Illegal Immigration?

Mexican-American Border Fence
Photo: David McNew / Getty Images.

Peter Guzman was scheduled to be the best man at his brother's wedding in July 2007, but he never made it. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had deported Guzman, a U.S. citizen and second-generation Mexican-American immigrant, as an "illegal alien."

Bettina Casares, a U.S. citizen and Air Force veteran, faced similar treatment in 2003 as she was assaulted and detained by Border Patrol agents while trying to return to the United States after visiting her family in Mexico over the Easter holiday. (Casares later filed suit, winning an undisclosed settlement.)

Guzman and Casares are among the thousands of U.S. citizens of Latino ancestry detained or deported annually by agents of the U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. As Jacqueline Stevens writes in The Nation:
... California Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren calls Guzman the "poster child" for an epidemic of detaining and deporting US citizens by ICE. Kara Hartzler, an attorney at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project (FIRRP), agrees with Lofgren. Last year Hartzler's staff of six attorneys provided presentations and occasionally individual advice to more than 8,000 detainees in southern Arizona ... Hartzler testified, "The deportation of US citizens is not happening monthly, or weekly, but every day."

ICE does not keep records on cases in which detainees claim to be US citizens. If larger trends are consistent with the pattern in Hartzler's caseload, since 2004 ICE has held between 3,500 and 10,000 US citizens in detention facilities and deported about half ...

I called fifteen private immigration attorneys whose names appear on a Justice Department list of pro bono attorneys in Los Angeles and left messages asking whether they had clients in the past three years who were US citizens held in ICE detention for at least one month. Seven of them called back, each describing one to four clients who meet these criteria ...

Since the state does not guarantee legal representation in civil cases, 90 to 95 percent of detainees lack attorneys.
Nor is the federal government the only offender. Local ordinances are frequently written in manner that encourages local officials and private citizens to indiscriminately target Latino residents, regardless of immigration status. The Hazleton Ordinance, for example, used a definition of illegal status so broad that it actually includes some U.S. citizens and legal residents. The Pahrump Ordinance targeted any celebration of Latin American heritage that permits participants to fly the flag of another nation. The proposed Bogota Ordinance would have prohibited the use of Spanish in advertisements and certain other printed materials. I could go on.

And the hostility towards "illegal immigrants" has also encouraged vigilantism against Latinos by white nationalists. As the Southern Poverty Law Center reports:
The number of hate groups operating in the United States has grown to 888 — a staggering 48 percent increase since 2000, driven largely by anti-immigrant hysteria. And since the spring of 2005, some 300 new immigration restriction groups, including border vigilantes like the Minutemen and organizations that exist simply to harass Latino immigrants, have sprung up across the country. Of that number, 144 are listed as "nativist extremist" groups — organizations that do not merely seek to change immigration policy, but actively confront or harass individuals who they believe are undocumented.
Even anti-immigrant groups that don't necessarily identify as white nationalist organizations tend to make common cause with groups that do. In 2006, for example, the director of Border Guardians recruited neo-Nazis to rob, beat, harass, and otherwise intimidate Latinos. (One suggestion pulled from the email: "Discourage Spanish-speaking children from going to school. Be creative.")

This hostility--from federal and local governments, from hate groups, and from private citizens--is having a noticeable impact on the lives of Americans of Latino ancestry. As I wrote back in December:
According to a new study by the Pew Hispanic Center, 64 percent of U.S. Latinos say that their lives have been made harder by the immigration debate. (About 75 percent of Latinos are in this country legally; undocumented immigrants make up only 12 million of the 47-million-strong Latino population.) And over the past year, the percentage of Latinos who say that they, their families, or their close friends have been victimized by discrimination has increased from 31 percent to 41 percent.

These statistics are corroborated by FBI data indicating that hate crimes against Latinos have increased by 35 percent over the past four years.
These abuses underscore the need for calm, humane immigration reform that rejects policies of mass deportation. Even if the deportation of 12 million people could be justified on the basis of paperwork violations, it's almost certain that, given the abuses inherent in the limited anti-immigration statutes we already have, a more ambitious policy would have an even more drastic, and harmful, effect on American Latinos.

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June 11, 2008 at 12:33 pm
(1) Dr. kushal Banerjee says:

I am a young doctor and an activist for civil liberties and human rights.

I would like to point out the issue of “RAGGING” (“Hazing”) in India involving extreme abuses and tortures on innocent teenage victims.

Between 2000-2007, around 31 ragging deaths were reported from India, while many more were injured and countless of innocents were seriously abused. Only in 2007, 7 deaths were reported.

I am a member of what is possibly the only registered Indian NGO dedicated against ragging.
I would like to request everyone to stand united against ragging in order to ensure a better future for countless of innocent youths.

Thanks and regards,
Dr. Kushal Banerjee,

May 26, 2011 at 9:02 am
(2) jerome washington says:

I am a u.s citizen and I do have a u.s passport
I was detained for 10 mounts and order deported to jamaica I have no one here so know I live on the streets of jamaica I have been rob multiple times and beaten please help me

May 26, 2011 at 9:03 am
(3) jerome washington says:

I am a u.s citizen and I do have a u.s passport
I was detained for 10 mounts and order deported to jamaica I have no one here so know I live on the streets of jamaica I have be…

en rob multiple times and beaten please help me

March 5, 2012 at 12:01 am
(4) Manuel Rivera says:

The US Border Patrol has been harassing my family since we moved to Southern California over two years ago.
We are US born citizens from Puerto Rican ascent.
On 3/3/12, while I was driving home with my 69 year old mother, a Border Patrol unit stopped my son less than half a mile from our home in Boulevard, CA, for the second time this month. I stopped to ask them why where they harassing us again.
The officer told me to get back to my car; I complied.
The officer told me to get in the car; I complied.
The officer told me to close the door and i told him that I wanted to be able to see what they were doing to my son because I couldn’t trust them.
At the point he told me to get out of the car and that I was under arrest. I asked him: “What are you doing this to us? We live here. We are decent members of this community. I only want to know why you guys keep harassing us every day? He told me to turn around and put my hands behind my back. I kept asking him: “What are you doing? I just want to know why you guys keep harassing us.” He pulled out his tazer. I asked him: “What, are you going to taze me?”…
With his shaking hand, he calmly stepped back and fired. While I was being shocked and on the ground, he kept telling me to put my hands behind my back. I could not comply with his order because I was being tazed at the moment. Then, he pulled the trigger another time and ordered me to put the hands behind my back. I yelled “I can’t move!”
He stopped shocking me and I was arrested. They handcuffed me so tight that I still can’t feel my right thumb. I was taken to a detention center in Pine Valley, CA and booked.

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