RALEIGH - United States Magistrate Judge William A. Webb today recommended that a case go forward in which the U.S. government wrongly deported an American citizen. The ruling recommended denying a motion by the U.S. government to dismiss a lawsuit filed on behalf of Mark Lyttle (pictured), a U.S. citizen of Puerto Rican descent with mental disabilities who was wrongfully deported to Mexico in 2008 and forced to endure over four months of living on the streets and in the shelters and prisons of Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala.
The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina in October 2010.
“What our government did to Mark Lyttle, one of its own citizens, is unconscionable, and we are pleased that the court today recommended that the case go forward,” said Katy Parker, Legal Director for the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation. &ldqo;Even though Mark was born and raised in Rowan County, North Carolina, immigration officials made scarcely any effort to confirm his citizenship. Instead, they unjustly shipped this poor man off to a country where he didn’t even speak the language, inflicting severe emotional harm in the process.”
Lyttle’s entanglement with immigration authorities began when he was about to be released from a North Carolina jail where he was serving a short sentence for inappropriately touching a worker's backside in a halfway house that serves individuals with mental disorders. Despite having ample evidence that Lyttle was a U.S. citizen – including his social security number, the names of his parents, his sworn statements that he was born in the United States and criminal record checks – officials from the North Carolina Department of Correction referred him to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as an undocumented immigrant whose country of birth was Mexico. Lyttle had never been to Mexico, shared no Mexican heritage, spoke no Spanish and did not claim to be from Mexico.
Lyttle was left alone and penniless in Mexico and unable to communicate in Spanish. Mexican authorities sent him to Honduras, where he was imprisoned and faced with guards who threatened to shoot him. Honduran officials sent him to Guatemala and, eventually, he made his way to the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City. Within a day, embassy officials contacted one of Lyttle's three brothers at the military base where he was serving, leading to Lyttle being issued a U.S. passport. His brother wired him money and Lyttle was soon on a flight to Atlanta. Upon Lyttle's arrival, border officials, seeing his history of ICE investigations, held and questioned him for several hours before letting him go.
During this four month ordeal, Lyttle was unable to take his medications to treat his mental illnesses and was subject to cycles of manic activity and depression.
In his judgment today, Judge Webb wrote that the actions taken by the U.S. government, if proven true, were “extreme and outrageous.” He also agreed that “improperly detaining and ‘unjustly exiling [an American citizen] ought to be beyond this society’s bounds.’”
“The United States loses sight of the fact that [Lyttle] is not an alien challenging a decision of removal,” Webb wrote. “Rather, he is a United States citizen alleging that immigration officials deliberately violated his rights in the execution of their duties.”
Judy Rabinovitz, deputy Director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, said Mr. Lyttle’s case is unfortunately not unique.
“What happened to Mr. Lyttle – and to countless others -- is the inevitable result of an immigration system that fails to provide basic due process protections – such as a right to appointed counsel – to individuals who are placed in removal proceedings, even those who are U.S. citizens and have mental disabilities," Rabinovitz said. "Throughout the time Mr. Lyttle was detained by immigration and facing deportation, he never had any contact with a lawyer.”