Thursday, November 4, 2010

Is U.S. Immigration Policy a Disability Issue?

Hang in there with me on this one. It is a horrifying and complicated story.

I just finished reading a 62-page Petition filed against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), for the illegal deportation of a disabled citizen. No one could make this story up. It covers the gamut of bigotry: racial profiling, indifference to and manipulation of a person with a disability, and several violations of the person's constitutional rights.

The Gist of It
Mark David Lyttle is a 33 years old man who was born in Salisbury, Rowan County, North Carolina to parents of Puerto Rican descent. He is a U.S. Citizen with all the birthrights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that any person should enjoy. Because of an abusive home life, he was taken from his birth parents and adopted by the Thomas and Jeanne Lyttle when he was seven.

Mark is a person with multiple disabilities. He is bi-polar; has type II diabetes; cognitive delays; and significant reading, writing, comprehension, visual processing, conceptualization and memory disabilities. He does not speak Spanish.

The U.S. Department of Immigration deported Mark Lyttle to Mexico. Until is deportation, he had never been outside the U.S. What followed was four months of torment, wandering in and out of four Central American countries. Finally one sympathetic bureaucrat took the time to check out his claims. She found Mr. Lyttle's family, who were looking for him, but was unaware of what had happened to him. She issued him an U.S. Passport and sent him home to his family. That should have been the end of the story. Instead, it is just the beginning.

All this information comes from a Petition filed with the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division. The disability language used in the petition is what you can expect from people who are not in the movement. Be prepared to cringe. If you want to read the entire petition, email me at and I will send it to you.

The Details
I've tried several ways to tell Mark Lyttle's story; it such a complicated and convoluted story, I finally settled on just telling it in chronological order. It makes the piece a little longer, but it is much easier to follow.

In the summer of 2008 Mr. Lyttle was a patient at Cherry Hospital (a psychiatric hospital in Goldsboro, NC). While there he was charged with inappropriately touching a female attendant and subsequently convicted of a misdemeanor charge of assault on a female. It wasn't his first brush with the law; his disabilities make it difficult for him to get along easily in society.

August 14, 2008: Mark Lyttle was sentenced to 100 days at the Neuse Correctional Center. He started serving that sentence on August 22, 2008. Because of his “obvious cognitive disorder” He was placed in the prison's mental health ward.

September 2, 2008: For reasons known only by ICE and Neuse Correctional Center, Mr. Lyttle was “apprehended” and interrogated by an ICE agent, without a witness present, an ICE rule. She gave him an assumed name of Jose Thomas, noted she believed the name Mark David Lyttle was an alias, and that he was a native of Mexico. She listed his home address of an assisted living facility in Elizabeth City NC. She also noted he entered the US without permission at age three. Where or how she got that information is unclear.

When she finished her interrogation, she did not let Mr. Lyttle review the entries on the “Record of Sworn Statement in Affidavit Form” on Jose Thomas, or get him help to understand anything that happened. The form includes the question if the subject is eligible for special status program; the agent wrote, “Mental illness and bipolar.” She instructed him to sign his name. He complied by signing his real name, Mark Lyttle.

September 4, 2008: Just two days later, the agent searched several computerized databases, found no record of a Jose Thomas, or that Mark Lyttle had ever used an alias.

September 5, 2008: The agent did a search of his criminal record that produced several entries indicating that Mark Lyttle was a U.S. citizen and had a valid Social Security number. Still, no finding of him ever having or using the name Jose Thomas.

Despite the evidence, another ICE agent signed a “Warrant for Arrest of Alien” and a “Notice of Intent to Issue Final Administrative Removal Order”. The documents show that ICE had already determined Mr. Lyttle was not a citizen of the U.S. ICE declared him a native of Mexico, and was deportable (sic) because he was convicted of aggravated felony.

To summarize: In three short weeks, Mark Lyttle went from serving a 100 day sentence for a misdemeanor, to being detained by the Department of Homeland Security until an immigration judge reviewed his status. All this happened to him without the benefit of any help, support, or legal representation. No one read or helped him understand the forms he was manipulated into signing. ICE continued to call him Jose Thomas, Mark continued signing all the documents with his real name.

ICE notes continued to note that Mr. Lyttle had a valid Social Security number.

September 23, 2008: One month and one day after beginning his misdemeanor sentence, He was transferred to the New Hanover Correctional Center. A week after that, he was transferred again to Greene Correctional Center where he was scheduled to be released about October 28, 2008.

October 28, 2008; He was not released. He was delivered into ICE custody and transferred to Stewart Detention Center; a place to house people awaiting determination of their immigration status.

November 3, 2008: In yet another interrogation by an ICE agent, Mark Lyttle stated definitively he was a citizen of the U.S., not a Mexican citizen. The agent noted that Mr. Lyttle was “a native of and citizen of the U.S.”

November 5, 2008: Nonetheless, ICE decreed that Mr. Lyttle should be deported. Why? The Petition states that it was because he had criminal convictions. Hell, I guess the U.S. could deport Scooter Libby for the same reasons... oh, no. They would not do that to Scooter. He's not brown.

Also on that day an agent filed a Notice to Appear for a Removal proceeding by an immigration judge, speeding up the process by removing a step; a hearing to see if the case was valid.

November 17, 2008: Mark Lyttle attempted suicide. Tragically sad, but not surprising considering what he was going through, the callousness of his treatment, and the lack of any sort of support whatsoever.

Georgia Public Health laws require that incarcerated people cannot self-medicate. Their medications must be distributed, one pill at a time. On this date, staff gave him a bottle of 60 Glucophage tablets. He was to take one a day to control his type II diabetes. Back in his cell, he took all of them. His life was saved after being rushed to Doctors Hospital in Columbus, GA.

December 9, 2008: Without the opportunity to present evidence and without legal representation, a judge issued an order that Mark Lyttle should be “returned” to Mexico. Under the law, judges are prohibited from doing just what was done to “unrepresented, incompetent respondents. Homeland Security is also prohibited by law to file charges on a person known to be “mentally incompetent.”

December 12, 2008: Yet another agent did a database search and found several references to Mr. Lyttle's Social Security number and that he was born in the U.S.

December 18, 2008: ICE took Mark Lyttle by plane to Hidalgo, TX, forced him to cross the border on foot, in his prison-issued jumpsuit. He had three dollars in his pocket.

Four Months in Central America
December 29, 2008: Mark had spent the proceeding days begging for food and sleeping in the streets. On this date, he tried to cross back into the U.S., at the same place he was dropped off. He was insistent about his U.S. Citizenship and residency in NC. So, Custom Border Patrol (CBP) looked him up in the database, saw he was a “prior deported alien” and that he had been returned to Mexico. He was not allowed back in.

Eventually, missionaries picked him up and moved him to Mexico City. They told him to find the American Embassy. Instead, Mexican Immigration officials arrested him for being unable to prove his Mexican citizenship and deported him to Honduras.

I am not making this up.

In Honduras, immigration officials arrested Mr. Lyttle and put him in an immigration camp, then transferred him to another. It was in Honduras, where Mr. Lyttle endured ”severe, harsh... and inhumane” physical and mental abuse. The Petition does not go into detail about what abuse, but it doesn't take much of an imagination to think what that might include.

Apparently, the Honduran media got wind of the story and the public outcry was so strong, they released him from jail. He was also arrested in Nicaragua because he could not produce any papers.

After four months he wandered and was in and out of jails and shelters. Eventually he ended up in Guatemala and found the U.S. Embassy. It was there that one person took the time to listen to him. The Embassy verified his identity, and contacted his brothers (both serve in the military). The brothers faxed the necessary forms (birth certificate, adoption records). The Embassy issued Mr. Lyttle a passport within 24 hours, booked him on a flight to Nashville to reunite with his family and on April 22, 2009, Mark Lyttle left Central America for home.

It's not the end of the story. Not even close!

Unfortunately, he had to travel through Atlanta GA customs. No surprise, CBP detained him because he was in the database as a deported alien. He told his story to the customs agents, who filled out a form, “Record of Deportable (sic)/Inadmissible Alien.”

April 23, 2009: ICE again issued an expedited removal order against him. But this time, his family was looking for him, since he did not arrive at the airport in Nashville. His brothers hired an attorney in Atlanta.

April 24, 2009: Mark David Lyttle is finally and forever (or until they racial profile him up again) released from ICE.

April 28, 2009: Mr. Lyttle's attorneys filed a motion to terminate efforts to ever deport him again.

October 2010: Attorneys for Mr. Lyttle filed a case in U.S. District Court against several agencies and individuals within the Department of Homeland Security for violating his fourth, fifth, fourteenth amendments rights, false imprisonment, negligence and several other crimes.

To date no one from the DHS, ICE or CBP has provided an explanation, or apologized to Mr. Lyttle for their actions.

Is this an isolated case? How often is it happening? What is Homeland Security doing, if anything, to create safeguards for people with cognitive and/or mental disabilities?

I will attempt to answer those questions in a second installment, in a few days.


Penny L. Richards said...

Definitely not an isolated case:

Penny L. Richards said...

And here's another one:

Big Noise said...

Thanks Penny. You're right. Part II will be about other folks, the ICE culture and the Hayes memo sent out by DHS about dealing with people with cognitive/mental disabilities.

Anonymous said...

I cannot decide whether to cry or scream in anger. That this could happen multiple times !@#*!!

Richard Moore said...

Thanks for posting this story. I'm sort of surprised that this hasn't received any news coverage in my area, since I live relatively close to Goldsboro where Cherry Hospital is located. It's reprehensible to think that my tax dollars are being used to persecute and deport an American citizen when ICE could be doing something that's actually effective and helps identify and remove, oh I dunno, ACTUAL ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS from enemy states that pose legitimate threats. What a disgrace.

Anonymous said...

I am really not surprised at the level of governmental incompetence, as I work in it. The fundamental thing to remember about bureaucracy is that if a person is difficult or abusive, and this man is (trust me I've met him), overworked or overlazy people are disinclined to help him by exercising independent thought and making some phone calls.