Today in Dilley during a normal intake process with a woman detained there I discovered that my client was actually a United States citizen. This woman, fleeing from narco-traffickers in Mexico with her two teen children, had no idea she was, in fact, a U.S. Citizen. ICE had detained her and her kids for more than 10 days without questioning about her parentage and whether or not she had a claim to citizenship. It also appears that she may have even been erroneously deported at least once before.
While performing a routine check-in towards the end of the day, I began asking this woman a series of questions about her past and her connections to the United States. She mentioned that she had four U.S. citizen half-brothers and half-sisters but that they did not communicate regularly and it was not likely that they would be willing to sponsor her for her release. Finding it odd that she had four U.S. citizen siblings older than her, I asked how that came to be. She went on to describe that her father constantly went across the U.S./Mexican border and would live on each side for periods of up to 6 months throughout his life. More confused, I then proceeded to inquire how he went back and forth across the border without issue and she surprisingly answered that he was born here. Dumbfounded by the possibility that she may be a U.S. citizen and have been illegally detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, I pressed on to find out that her father had been born in Devine, Texas and was a natural born U.S. citizen.
After conducting a little bit of research with the help of my law partner, Brian Murray, and another great attorney volunteering here, Julie Spahn, we were able to confirm that she indeed meets the standard for acquisition of U.S. citizenship abroad to a U.S. Citizen parent.
Not having access to my cellphone and her having limited resources inside the detention center, we were able to contact her sisters in Mexico and have them send us photos via Facebook of her father’s birth certificate, his social security card, and his Texas driver’s license. Taking these items coupled with her birth certificate, which included her father’s name, we contacted ICE officials to notify them of their mistake. ICE sent a deportation officer down to the volunteer area to verify the information we had given them and began processing her for immediate release.
Detained for more than 10 days in inhumane conditions with her two children, she broke down in tears at the news that she was being released that very day. I am thrilled to have stumbled across this woman’s case and even happier that I was able to piece everything together for her. I am grateful to the CARA Pro Bono Project for their assistance in helping us obtain this woman’s release and her freedom to pursue her American Dream.