President Trump’s assertion that four US Congresswomen should go back to their countries raised alarms across the United States. All four women are United States citizens and three were born in the United States. The President’s statement also brought back appalling memories of a case we handled concerning a US citizen that the government mistakenly tried to deport.
Story of Daniel
My client, whom we’ll call Daniel, was born in California in 1985 to Filipino parents. He worked at a clothing factory in California. Like far too many Americans who have dark skin, he was arrested by ICE agents when he could not prove his US citizenship during a workplace raid.
When our staff attorney visited Daniel at a San Francisco detention center, the agent in charge would not release Daniel until we could provide proof of his citizenship. A passport, birth certificate or certificate of naturalization or citizenship would be accepted as proof. Neither Daniel nor his parents knew the location of his birth certificate, his only proof of citizenship.
Several days later, we were able to persuade an immigration judge that Daniel was a US citizen. Daniel’s ordeal is all too similar to other attempted deportations of US citizens.
Immigration Law and Mistaken Detentions
There are roughly 150 mistaken citizenship detentions in the United States every year. Many people who are detained find it difficult to prove their citizenship under our complex immigration laws. The New Yorker reports that James Busse was a 35-year-old stockbroker who was born in Barbados but came to the United States as an infant with his mother. She became a naturalized citizen when James was nine years old. James’s father was Canadian but died when James was a child.
If you were born in the United States, you are a US citizen. The law also says that people who have been permanent residents for five years can apply for citizenship. The required time to naturalize is three years if your spouse is a US citizen. If you were born outside the United States, you are a US citizen if both parents are citizens and at least one has lived in the United States.
You are also a citizen if your parent became a naturalized citizen when you were a minor. James Busse was an American citizen under this law. He had a green card as a child but never obtained a US passport. Nearly a year after his mistaken arrest by ICE, a judge dismissed Busse’s deportation case.
Frightening Times for Many Americans
One would think that the citizenship of four US Congresswomen would not be questioned. President Trump fanned anti-immigrant flames when he told these four US citizens to go back to their countries. American citizens of various ethnic backgrounds now worry about ICE raids. NBC News reports that US citizens are renewing and carrying their passports because they fear arrest.
Immigration law is complex. Mistaken detention is a frightening experience for an American who has no knowledge of the law. The current anti-immigrant climate is not the first in this country’s history. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, 450,000 Mexican Americans were deported to Mexico in a sweeping, often racist campaign. Roughly half of the deportees were US citizens. During the anti-communist scare of the 1950s, the US government sent more US citizens to Mexico. Once again in 2019, many Americans must be extra careful to avoid deportation by their own government.