The family had been searching for 31-year-old Mark and feared he was lost or dead.
Mark Lyttle was born in Rowan County, N.C., and had never left the United States. He speaks no Spanish and has no Mexican ancestry.
But Mark Lyttle suffers from mental illness. He has bipolar disorder, which requires medication, and is also mentally disabled.
He had been living in a group home when he got into trouble for inappropriately touching an employee, said Neil Rambana, an immigration lawyer helping the family. Lyttle pled guilty to a misdemeanor and served 85 days in jail. Instead of being released, he was turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement because a jail form listed his place of birth as Mexico.
ICE did not investigate his citizenship. He spent two months at an Atlanta detention center just miles from his mother, who didn’t know where he was.
At one point Lyttle signed an ICE document saying he was a Mexican citizen, but two days later he signed another stating that he was born in the United States. He went before a judge in December 2008 as part of a group hearing and accepted “expedited removal,” an uncontested deportation.
Brian Lyttle, who serves in the U.S. Army along with his other brother, Tommy, is furious that his brother was deported.
“(We’re) an all-American family with two soldiers and a family member who happens to be handicapped,” he said. “It’s like spitting on my uniform that you would do that to my brother.”
A suspicious accent
Houston chef Leonard Robert Parrish, 52, wasn’t locked up by ICE or deported, but he did run afoul of a law intended for illegal immigrants.
The Brooklyn-born Parrish went down to the Harris County sheriff’s office in September to clear up a problem over a couple of bounced checks. He wound up in jail on immigration charges. He was strip-searched and spent 12 hours in custody.
“The deputy told me I had a foreign accent,” Parrish recalled. “I told him I had an East Coast accent. He said, ‘It sounds like a foreign accent to me.’ ”
A 2008 Texas law required a person’s citizenship status be linked to his driver’s license. A sheriff’s deputy told Parrish he was detained because when they ran his driver’s license information through their computer, it said that his citizenship status was “unknown.”
“I served on a murder jury in Texas and they can’t find out I’m a citizen?” asked Parrish. “I’m still fighting. … Nobody wants to take responsibility for locking me up for no reason.”
Sent to Honduras
According to her birth certificate, Diane Williams was born in Metairie, La., on Aug. 23, 1974.
So Williams was shocked on Jan. 18 when, hours after she was released from a Houston jail on prostitution charges, immigration agents showed up at her apartment and arrested her, saying she was a deportable alien.
“I had a copy of my birth certificate, but they said they didn’t know if it was real or not,” she said.
Williams, who has bipolar disorder, was denied medication during her three weeks in ICE detention, according to her Houston lawyer, Lawrence Rushton.
She at first refused to sign a deportation order waiving her right to court review, but did so after agents threatened that she would be jailed for years and deported anyway, Williams said.
On Feb. 9, she was deported to Honduras, where she spent almost two months, Rushton said.
Eventually, the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa issued Williams a temporary passport, after her mother sent documents proving her identity. On March 31, she flew back to New Orleans.
“I’ve had citizens who end up being detained,” Rushton said, “but this is the first case where I’ve seen someone deported who’s clearly and obviously a U.S. citizen.”