Mark Lyttle is a U.S. citizen, born in Rowan County.
But that didn’t stop state corrections officials or federal immigration agents from putting him on a path to deportation in December 2008.
Lyttle, who speaks no Spanish and is of Puerto Rican descent, ended up spending four months penniless and living on the streets or in prisons and shelters in Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala.
After being booted out of Mexico and Honduras and suffering beatings in prisons, Lyttle was able to reach an American embassy in Guatemala where staff was quickly able to confirm that he was a U.S. citizen. They quickly reached his family, who had no idea what Lyttle’s plight had been, and he was able to return to the United States.
Yesterday, the American Civil Liberties Union, and its North Carolina and Georgia chapters, filed two federal lawsuits yesterday against the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the N.C. Department of Corrections, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and various immigration agents for violating Lyttle’s constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.
Katy Parker, the legal director at ACLU of North Carolina, said the lawsuits are seeking damages for Lyttle as well as policy changes, to prevent others from going through what he did.
Lyttle was in the state prison system after he was convicted of inappropriately touching the rear of a staffer at the halfway house he lived when state correction officials handed him off to immigration agents to investigate his citizenship status.
His mental disabilities and illness were apparent and well-known, yet he was never assigned an advocate or lawyer to help navigate the immigration system, Parker said. State corrections and federal immigration agents also ignored indications that he was a U.S. citizen, including his Social Security number and his statements that he was born in Rowan County.
His family, when they called correction staff to find out about his release, was never told he was in immigration proceedings.
“It’s really scary how you can get on the slippery slope and there are not proper checks and balances, even if you are a U.S. citizen,” Parker said. “In this case, there’s just not adequate protection.”
To read the ACLU complaints or their press release about yesterday’s filings, go here.