When Governor Spitzer proposed allowing undocumented sojourners to get driver’s licenses, I supported it. People are here in the United States for any number of reasons and the revival of 19th Century arguments about furriners a-stealin’ our jobs was unfairly simplistic.
Those who disagreed with me held the position that undocumented sojourners might as well live in the shadows if they live here at all — no health care, no education, no anything that taxpayers (which include undocumented sojourners) should expect. I countered that this would be cruel, because people in shadows are easily forgotten and thus easy prey.
I support humane immigration and refugee problems because “toughness” in rhetoric always becomes brutality in practice. As I argued, keeping people in the shadows would establish an atmosphere for all kinds of abuse. Sometimes, I hate to be right:
Thomas Warziniack was born in Minnesota and grew up in Georgia, but immigration authorities pronounced him an illegal immigrant from Russia.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has held Warziniack for weeks in an Arizona detention facility with the aim of deporting him to a country he’s never seen. His jailers shrugged off Warziniack’s claims that he was an American citizen, even though they could have retrieved his Minnesota birth certificate in minutes and even though a Colorado court had concluded that he was a U.S. citizen a year before it shipped him to Arizona.
On Thursday, Warziniack finally became a free man. Immigration officials released him after his family, who learned about his predicament from McClatchy, produced a birth certificate and after a U.S. senator demanded his release.
Now you’d think this was an isolated incident. But no.
An unpublished study by the Vera Institute of Justice, a New York nonprofit organization, in 2006 identified 125 people in immigration detention centers across the nation who immigration lawyers believed had valid U.S. citizenship claims.
Vera initially focused on six facilities where most of the cases surfaced. The organization later broadened its analysis to 12 sites and plans to track the outcome of all cases involving citizens.
Nina Siulc, the lead researcher, said she thinks that many more American citizens probably are being erroneously detained or deported every year because her assessment looked at only a small number of those in custody. Each year, about 280,000 people are held on immigration violations at 15 federal detention centers and more than 400 state and local contract facilities nationwide.
That’s quite an error rate. Funny how that never comes up on CNN. Well, you’d think ICE would ramp up their PR efforts and at least sort of apologize. You’d think, but you’d be wrong:
“The burden of proof is on the individual to show they’re legally entitled to be in the United States,” said ICE spokeswoman [Virginia] Kice.
That could only be because being without documents is not a crime. For the same reason, detainess don’t have a right to a lawyer. But everybody understands what burden of proof means, right Ms. Kice? Errr….
Proving citizenship is especially difficult for the poor, mentally ill, disabled or anyone who has trouble getting a copy of his or her birth certificate while behind bars.
Pedro Guzman, a mentally disabled U.S. citizen who was born in Los Angeles, was serving a 120-day sentence for trespassing last year when he was shipped off to Mexico. Guzman was found three months later trying to return home. Although federal government attorneys have acknowledged that Guzman was a citizen, ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said Thursday that her agency still questions the validity of his birth certificate.