In 2014 in El Paso Texas Lorenzo Palma found himself on the wrong side of ICE. On the verge of being released on parole for assault, and suspecting he was in fact a US citizen, he was about to face an Immigration Judge and about to go into a system he’d been warned to avoid his whole life. Even though his Grandfather had been born in El Paso in 1914, and he told the Judge that he felt this made him an American Citizen, ICE had felt that he was here illegally and was making a case to deport him.
Just as Palma thought he would be released, and since he had not a dime to his name, he couldn’t even call his mother to ask her to provide the court with the necessary documents to prove his citizenship and had to send a letter to her instead, thus prolonging his incarceration and further compounding the issue of his status.
Now, did you know that it is illegal for United States Immigration to hold its citizens in detention? It would certainly make sense that an arm meant to oversee the comings and goings of plenty of other people around the globe would not be meant to incarcerate and detain, unlawfully, its own citizens wouldn’t it? And so there should be no reasonable threat to American Citizens that they might be detained by Immigration officials then right? But, unfortunately, this is not the case. It has been documented that over 1,400 American citizens have been held in Federal detainers between 2007-July 2016. I should add, documented by ICE themselves and what they would like to admit to. But still, one would assume that there should be a zero tolerance for that kind of a thing right?
Palma also did not have the right to an attorney. I think that anyone who is concerned about a loved one or anyone regarding Immigration rights should understand that since Immigration is a Civil charge they do NOT have the right to an attorney. So when people like Palma who are caught in a system and then are sucked into another system that has targeted them for an unknown reason and forced to prove their innocence, then it is their sole responsibility to figure out how to maneuver that very system. And for Palma that meant from the confines of Prison- luckily, his mother received his letter and was able to send his grandfather’s birth certificate in to the court within a month.
Yet, Palma still sat in his jail cell and his family, who worried that they would be deported as well, had no support either. Finally, Palma was at the end of his rope and was about to give in and allow himself to be deported (unknowing that the court was in possession of the documentation that proved his citizenship), his case also had switched judges and this judge asked that the ICE lawyer take a better look at the file and look for the documents. When, wouldn’t you know, they found the birth certificate. After rifling though audibly in court the stack of papers in Palma’s file, they read the words birth certificate, and it was confirmed. Then the judge asked:
“And Mr. McPhail, why is the government asserting that the respondent provided no useful information with respect to any acquisition claim?” the judge asked.
“This information came in subsequent to the interview, and the agent did not update the interview,” McPhail replied.
Sigh of relief despite the negligence and obvious lying right? He can go free now right? Isn’t that the irony…No, no. This system is not designed to simply allow a person who is suspected of being here illegally to provide just one form of proof, no that’s not enough. See below:Apparently, in an effort to try to help Palma the judge called his mother who believed she may have been living in America illegally herself and cried on the phone with him. She admitted that her birth of her son was complicated and she didn’t have enough money to give birth in an American hospital and had to give birth to him in Ciudad Juárez. The story was getting sadder and sadder and the odds were truly stacked against Palma, he was going to give up when one day Stevens, the Northwestern University professor who ran a law clinic, was in court and decided to help. And he did.
There are countless stories just like this one, so many that make me want to redirect my life’s work and regret not doing Immigration Law. Palma had called and reached out to countless Immigration attorneys good ones, bad ones, ones that did Pro bono but none of them called him back. This is no different than all the people you know are experiencing the same exact scenario, because pro bono work is hard and relentless. But the main issue is the Immigration system that is already so harshly discriminatory that it even incarcerates and DEPORTS its own citizens. The US is deporting or holding thousands of US Citizens a year. Since 2011 the documentation has supported that the numbers are consistently pointing towards negligence, deliberate omission with regards to reporting, and in general the defeated who believe they never belonged here in the first place would never speak up in defiance after such betrayal after deportation.
In 2010 alone more that 4,000 American Citizens were deported or detained. Are you listening to this? We are so concerned with ensuring that these people who are undocumented provide proof that we are making it impossible for ANYONE to prove that they belong here and we are sending our own people out dejected and defeated without legal representation.
Palma WAS and IS an American citizen, and you know what? So was his mother. Her whole life she thought she didn’t belong here, she thought she didn’t have rights, she couldn’t vote, she thought she couldn’t own property, she was told she’d be arrested and deported for any little thing, she was hiding in her own country. She never felt like she was allowed, and you know what, she never was allowed, these systems are built to hold us back from what we deserve. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be a part of America today watching as #Trump threatens #Immigrants, feeling trapped and powerless without the right to impart change. And, if she was in fact taken into the system, she would have been deported and never would have even known that this whole time she was an American herself: American Citizens come in all colors, we accept each other’s differences and embrace cultures of other countries. At least, I know I do but I cannot watch as ICE continues to imprison innocent people and wait for it to doll out its next best ‘Immigrant Solution.’
This is not justice. The ACLU has raised a class action suit in 2016 that their attorneys believe could reach 21,000 people who were held illegally by ICE for 4 yrs. This is outrageous. What I see is that when someone who is caught in a system, perhaps the legal system, perhaps by the #SFPD or #NYPD who have documented Racial Hate and targeting practices, whose names or faces look a certain way or who choose to speak certain languages, then they get held by Immigration. In some cases then the Police erroneously check the box Born In Mexico and they’re stuck:
Compounding the issue is the overwhelming dehumanization of people, people who have lived here with us from all nations Immigrants or Citizens, profiling them and turning them into demonized enemies: in normalizing hate, we are left with a world that sounds and looks like one that doesn’t want us because we don’t look and sound like everyone else:
Take comfort that there are legal bodies like the ACLU prosecuting ICE for their actions, if you know someone who might benefit from their class action suit have them reach out. Also, everyone who is involved in the fight should have the phone number and email address of a good pro bono Immigration Attorney to provide someone who needs it. Know that together we can make a difference, and in the face of adversity we will band together and stand up for injustice. But, what we don’t know we cannot prepare for. Stand prepared for what lies ahead, I’m on the lookout. You are already organizing, I see you: I wrote a Guide for Immigrants to organize and get involved a little while back- check it out.
Pulled from NPR’s You Say You’re American, But What If You Had To Prove It Or Be Deported
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