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Queens man detained by ICE for 4 years found to be US citizen

An auto mechanic from Queens was just released from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement cell where he has languished for the past four years because the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals found that he is a U.S. citizen, and has been all along. He found himself wrongly detained and facing deportation because he had previously been told by immigration officials that he was merely a permanent resident, subject to deportation upon even a minor criminal conviction.

The 36-year-old was born in Nigeria and brought to the U.S. by his parents when he was just a toddler. His parents later earned lawful permanent residency and, in 1994 when the man was 17, U.S. citizenship. Under immigration law at the time, minors living in the U.S. were automatically granted citizenship with their parents -- a fact of which the family was unaware.

The confusion arose in part because the wording of the law said children in this situation became automatic citizens if they had green cards or lived in the U.S., but the family -- and immigration officials -- thought the green card was required, and the Nigerian man didn't one. We now know he didn't need one.

When he tried to return home after visiting his sick grandmother in Nigeria, the immigration service moved to deport him because he had once pled guilty to gun possession and served probation. Because of that minor offense, he was detained in 2005 and spent 18 months detention fighting that deportation, then released to fight on. Whether he might actually be a citizen was never carefully considered.

Four years later, he lost his final deportation appeal and ordered to return to ICE detention. His wife has visited him nearly every day, and the possibility of his deportation and permanent separation from her fueled his fight for justice.

The destructive separation of families, however, is just what Congress was trying to prevent, as the 2nd Circuit noted. No green card, only U.S. residency, was required for automatic citizenship in this situation.

"An opportunity like this, where the moon and stars have to be lined up, it's crazy. I just was like, it's not only for me. A lot of people have been in this same situation," the man told the New York Daily News upon his victory. "I fell into a loophole that I couldn't have imagined. One little word, could change up the whole sentence."

Source: New York Daily News, "Queens auto mechanic declared citizen after four years locked up in immigration detention," Erica Pearson, Aug. 13, 2013

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