In December of 2008, now-33-year-old Mark Lyttle, an American citizen born and raised in North Carolina, was deported to Mexico. He is not of Mexican heritage, had never been to Mexico and could not speak a word of Spanish.
Lyttle has bipolar disorder and cognitive disabilities but was left to wander in Central America on the streets for months, says the ACLU’s Blog of Rights. “What happened to Mark Lyttle is outrageous and unconstitutional,” says Judy Rabinovitz, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, which is representing Lyttle along with a partner firm.
Immigrant Officials Coerced Lyttle To Say He Was From Mexico
As the ACLU details, Lyttle was “inexplicably” referred to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as an undocumented immigrant in 2008. Though there was “substantial evidence” of his U.S. citizenship, Lyttle was detained for 51 days and then “coerced” by ICU officials to sign a statement that he was from Mexico. As a result, he found himself in removal proceedings in which he did not have access to a lawyer.
The Raleigh News and Observer learned some disturbing details after reading the 350 page Homeland Security file on Lyttle. ICE officials contend that Lyttle had said that he was from Mexico:
“Individuals who misrepresent their true identity and make false statements to ICE officers create problems both for law enforcement and themselves,” ICE spokesman Ivan Ortiz-Delgado said in a written statement.
Lyttle swore to immigration agents on two occasions that he was Mexican, but he also swore that he was a U.S. citizen born in Rowan County. His Homeland Security file does not reflect any attempt by ICE officials to confirm Lyttle’s citizenship claims.
The agent who took Lyttle’s statement that he was born in North Carolina dismissed it, saying in a report that Lyttle “does not possess any documentation to support his claim.”
The Raleigh News and Observer also found that immigration officials had not attempted to search for Lyttle’s Rowan County birth certificate or to contact his family members before deporting him. Background checks with an FBI fingerprint database and the National Crime Information Center showed that Lyttle was an American citizen, but these findings were not brought forward when he appeared, without a lawyer, before an Atlanta immigration judge on December 9.
On December 18, with only $3 and no identity documents, Lyttle was brought to Hidalgo, Texas, and forced to cross over to Mexico on foot. On December 29, Lyttle returned to the border and threatened to hurt himself and border agents; a report noted that he “appears to be mentally unstable.” This time, officials attempted to find his birth certificate in Rowan County — but, as Lyttle was adopted, this document was stored in Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina. “Within hours,” Lyttle was again deported back to Mexico.
An Odyssey of Life on the Streets and Prison in Central America
Mexican authorities sent Lyttle to Honduras where he was imprisoned. After this, he ended up in Guatemala where he made his way to the U.S. Embassy. An official there contacted Lyttle’s brother who was serving at a military base in that area, obtained copies of Lyttle’s adoption papers and — at last — issued him a U.S. passport. Lyttle’s brother wired him money and he flew back to Atlanta. He is now living with their mother in Georgia.
While he was deported, Lyttle was not able to take his psychiatric medications and was therefore, as he noted, “subject to cycles of manic activity and depression.”
As the Charlotte Observer notes, Lyttle, who had been convicted of a number of crimes including assault and sexual battery, had “spent much of his adulthood bouncing among mental institutions, halfway houses and prisons.” In other words, there most certainly were state and federal records about Lyttle and his mental and other disabilities, the ACLU underscores.
What happened to Lyttle is a horror story and all the more to me as the mother of a teenage son with autism and cognitive disabilities. My son Charlie has echolalia, a speech disorder that results in him simply repeating what others say to him. I can certainly imagine someone saying to Charlie “Are you Mexican?” and him saying, without missing a beat “Mexican.”
For his detainment, deporting and abandonment in foreign countries where could not speak the language, Lyttle has recently been awarded $175,000 in damages from the federal government. His case is a textbook example of the “unconstitutional treatment” of individuals by immigration officials that has occurred since 2001, after the attacks on September 11 led to stepped-up efforts to find and deport undocumented immigrants. The ACLU has also undertaken a class action lawsuit in California, with the aim of ensuring that there are “due process protections for all individuals with mental disabilities caught in the sweep of immigration detention and enforcement,” so that what happened to Mark Lyttle will not happen again.
Related Care2 Coverage
Photo by qnr