The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and the ACLU of Georgia filed lawsuits October 13 on behalf of an individual with bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses who was erroneously deported.
In the summer of 2008, the individual was charged with misdemeanor assault after inappropriately touching a female at the psychiatric hospital where he resided. Though he spoke no Spanish and had never left the country, he was classified as a Mexican citizen and transferred to a detention facility in Georgia for immigration proceedings.
At seemingly every step of the process, he “unequivocally” told federal officials he was an American citizen, but was coerced multiple times into signing documents that waived his right to counsel in the hearings, according to the lawsuit. He was detained from October 28 to December 18, 2008 before being deported to Mexico. Later, he attempted to cross back into the U.S. but was deported again.
During the next four months, he roamed in Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala, living on the streets and in shelters and prisons, for failing to provide proper identification. In Honduras, he suffered severe physical and mental abuse by prison guards and was freed only in response to mounting public pressure and a media campaign.
He returned to the U.S. after his family coordinated his return. He then did not receive any response from federal officials after filing for claims for unlawful imprisonment under the Federal Tort Claims Act, prompting the October lawsuit.
In the complaint, the ACLU argues that federal officials violated the individual’s due process rights and right to a “reasonable opportunity” to defend himself under the Immigration and Nationality Act, as well as showed “reckless disregard for human life and liberty” and racial discrimination.
It also claims there was substantial evidence proving he was an American citizen, such as his Social Security number.
The cases were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.