The ACLU has filed lawsuits on behalf of Mark Lyttle, a U.S. citizen with a mental disability who was wrongfully deported to Mexico.
Lyttle was serving a short sentence in a North Carolina prison for inappropriately touching a worker in a psychiatric hospital. Prison officials contend he gave his birthplace as Mexico City, which they found as reason enough to turn him over to immigration officials. ICE detained Lyttle for six weeks in Georgia and had him sign papers authorizing his deportation. His lawyers allege ICE ignored the records of his Social Security numer as well as the fact that he is mentally disabled. In addition, they failed to inform his family members of his detention and deportation.
Lyttle, who is actually of Puerto Rican descent and speaks no Spanish, was sent to Texas and forced to cross over to Mexico on foot peniless and still wearing his prison jumpsuit. Over the course of four months, he wandered around and was imprisoned in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras since he had no documents to prove his identity or citizenship. He eventually found the U.S. embassy in Guatemala, where officials were able to contact his brother who sent him money to fly home. Upon arrival he was detained by immigration officials who tried to deport him again. A lawyer hired by his family was able to get him released, and days later the Department of Homeland Security filed a motion to terminate deportation proceedings since he was indeed a U.S. citizen.
Deputy Director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project Judy Rabinovitz remarks, “Our Constitution and our laws demand fair treatment for people with mental disabilities in any court, including immigration courts. Pushing Mr. Lyttle through proceedings that he clearly couldn’t understand and then deporting him was not only inhumane but a gross violation of his due process rights.”
Azadeh Shahshahani, Director of the National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project at the ACLU of Georgia adds,”Mr. Lyttle’s disabilities were obvious and well documented but the government offered him no legal assistance and worse still, failed to even perform the normal verification procedures on his legal status.”
Lawyers also contend he was discriminated against and assumed to be in the U.S. illegally since he is Latino.
The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the prison and immigration officials in North Carolina, and has filed a second lawsuit against the federal government requesting a jury trial. A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said the department would review the complaint and respond in court, while ICE refused to comment.