Despite his Southern accent and the conclusions of a court to the contrary, officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement managed to convince themselves that Thomas Warziniack was born in Russia. So they detained and planned to deport him. He is just one of hundreds of victims caught up in an unforgiving bureaucracy who beg, often without recourse, to be taken seriously.
It took McClatchy’s Washington bureau just minutes to confirm Warziniack’s citizenship. And when immigration prosecutors were presented with his birth certificate, they insisted on an additional week of detention in order to have time to verify the document.
But at least he was spared deportation. Some American citizens haven’t been so lucky.
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.
Last March, ICE agents in San Francisco detained Kebin Reyes, a 6-year-old boy who was born in the U.S., for 10 hours after his father was picked up in a sweep. His father says he wasn’t permitted to call relatives who could care for his son, although ICE denies turning down the request.