Deporting US Citizens. Accidently.



The deportation of 11 million human beings currently residing in the United States without proper documentation. Yup.  Donald Trump says he will do it.  (Inexpensively and humanely!)  Ted Cruz says he will do it too.  The Republican candidates for President seem pretty psyched up for mass deportations.

Whether you like the idea or not, you need to be aware of the fact that if these mass deportations are attempted, there will be US citizens and legal immigrants caught up in the mess.  US citizens will be mistakenly detained by Immigration Control and Enforcement (ICE).  And US citizens will be deported.

I hear you clicking your tongue and shaking your head.  US citizens?  Deported?  No.  That just won’t happen!  There will be safeguards in place.  AMERICANS aren’t going to be DEPORTED!!!

But you see, even now, even without any great effort towards mass deportations, the United States government is mistakenly detaining and deporting US citizens.  In fact, over the past 12 years, more than 20,000 US citizens have been illegally detained and/or deported by ICE, according to an extensive study published by Jacqueline Stevens, director of the Deportation Research Clinic at Northwestern University.

Want to hear some examples?

Well, there is US citizen Andres Robles Gonzalez, who was mistakenly deported to Mexico in 2008. He was stranded on the southern side of the US/Mexican border for three years while he waded through an absurd set of bureaucratic obstacles trying to prove his US citizenship. At one point he received a truly bizarre letter, full of typos, claiming that USCIS was unable to forward him a copy of his citizenship papers because he had been deported to Mexico. The letter went on to suggest that he pick up the paperwork in person when he was back in the United States.   He finally returned home in 2011, and was recently awarded $350,000 in damages for wrongful deportation.

Then there is little Emily Ruiz, who was born in Long Island, NY.  She was only four years old when she was apprehended at Dulles International Airport while traveling home to Long Island with her grandfather. The preschooler was held in a (bedless) detention cell for 20 hours prior to being deported to Guatemala. Three weeks later, her parents’ lawyer was able to bring her home. Ultimately, the US government settled a lawsuit filed by Emily’s parents for $32,500 in damages.

Mark Lyttle was born and raised in North Carolina.  Neither he nor his parents are immigrants.  He has no Mexican ancestry, and he doesn’t speak a word of Spanish. Prior to his deportation, he had never been outside of the United States.  In fact, he has spent a significant percentage of his life in psychiatric institutions, due to mental health issues.  After he was arrested in 2008, a series of clerical errors left him mistakenly labeled as a “criminal alien.”  While his family was desperately looking for him, checking hospitals and jails and even morgues, he was in the custody of ICE, who later deported him to Mexico.  His deportation led to a four-month odyssey.  He was finally picked up for sleeping on a bench in Guatemala City, and handed over to the US Embassy, where they established his identity, his US citizenship, and were able to reunite him with his family.  In his case, ICE settled out of court, and awarded Lyttle $175,000 in damages.



Ana Mederos is a typical middle class American, who has never been in trouble with the law. She has never been detained or deported.  But she could have been. She writes:

If you think this can’t happen to regular people, listen to my story. I was a naturalized US citizen before I was a year old. I got my Social Security card in the early 70’s during 7th grade civics class which was the norm back then. I’ve had an adult passport since before I was 21 years old and I’ve had it renewed many times.

In 1998 (at age 40), I went to the Social Security Admin. Office to change my name when I got married. The clerk and supervisor talked back and forth behind the glass. Finally, they told me I had NO STATUS on record. My records didn’t show if I was born in the US, legal resident, naturalized citizen, etc. I joked that if I got arrested, I would end up at Krome Immigration Detention Center. The supervisor replied that is exactly what would happen. She told us that at times it takes months to prove things without a passport of a Certificate of Citizenship, and they keep you until all is proven. Scared me enough to want to solve it that same day.

I had to go home and bring back proof of citizenship, (I brought my passport) and complete a form attesting my citizenship status.

Ana is the mother of two beloved daughters who she adopted from overseas as infants. She originally wrote this post as a warning to other adoptive parents that their children could be at risk. She went on to say:

Folks, please be sure your internationally adopted children have their US citizenship and obtain at least a passport card. Nowadays, all departments of government speak to each other, so obtaining a Certificate of Citizenship or a passport shows that their status is correct. 

Ana’s advice is sound. People who were adopted (either domestically or internationally) often have complex paperwork trails that make them especially vulnerable, even if their parents filed all of the correct paperwork. So do many people who derived their citizenship as children from parents who became naturalized citizens. There are a lot of people who have a complex paperwork trail. Adults who became citizens as children in the pre-computer era are especially at risk.  People with mental health issues, (like Mark Lyttle), and those with limited literacy, are also susceptible to errors that could end in disaster.

Think about Ana.  She was not among the 20,000 “mistakes” documented by Professor Stevens.  Now imagine, try to imagine, an effort to deport 11 million human beings.

There would be armed officials raiding family homes, workplaces, schools, dorms, and institutions, rounding up millions of human beings. Imagine how many US citizens (and other legal residents) will get caught up in this mess.

Perhaps half the kitchen staff at your favorite restaurant. Your daughter’s college roommate. The twins your aunt and uncle adopted 25 years ago. Your mom’s oncologist. The special needs son of your neighbors down the street.  The assistant teacher at your son’s preschool.

Imagine the chaos.  And the toll on individuals and families.

And then please tell me why this chaos would be in our national interest….

Updated February 11, 2017

Mass deportations have already started under the Trump administration.



Updated May 4: 

Donald Trump is now the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party.  He has promised not only to create mass chaos by pursuing these deportations, but also to build a wall at the US/Mexican border. published a three part series on the Trump Wall proposal.  You can read Part 1 here:

Also, please check out the three part series, Portraits of the Undocumented in America.  You can read Part 1 here:



The following studies and articles were used as sources for this story:

[otw_shortcode_button href=”” size=”medium” icon_position=”left” shape=”square”]Study by Prof Stevens[/otw_shortcode_button]


[otw_shortcode_button href=”” size=”medium” icon_position=”left” shape=”square”]Article on Andres Robles Gonzalez[/otw_shortcode_button]


[otw_shortcode_button href=”″ size=”medium” icon_position=”left” shape=”square”]Article on Emily Ruiz[/otw_shortcode_button]


[otw_shortcode_button href=”” size=”medium” icon_position=”left” shape=”square”]Article on Mark Lyttle[/otw_shortcode_button]





Photo by Bruce Armstrong


  1. I remember the most enraging story about a young teenage girl who was wrongfully deported to South America for a long period, and I’ve always wondered what damages were never reported. What’s the worst that could happen to a girl alone in a foreign country? –Maybe it did, and they just don’t want to talk about it. The outrage of such a situation is magnified to us by the fact that it was a natural-born american citizen that was unjustly ripped from home and dumped in a strange place. –But, to the person, it is the same experience no mater where you were born, or where you are a legal citizen. The world is full of people who have been born on the move. The humor of the image of someone delivered by a taxi-driver on the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge does not describe the desperate suffering of people born in the boats and deserts and refugee camps of America and the rest of the world. So long as we define people by their national status, we will cultivate an increasingly large population of people who have a rightful reason to resent anyone who has never experienced homelessness, and fear the institutions that represent them. Our crimes against people make us fear them, and our fear lets us villainize them. We paint their anger as evil, and our negligence as good. The extension of power to any institution whose function it is to deny rights to people based on a lack of evidence can only lead to the most nightmarish abuses. It is conceivable that people who vote for such policies will live to be swept-up in the machine, –though, in their ignorance you would have the very hardest time convincing them of their vulnerability. Nobody can be completely sure of their legitimacy when the standards are so dependent on hearsay.

  2. Over the weekend, several activists were arrested while protesting at a Trump rally. After being processed, the protesters were released. Except one. Jacinta Gonzalez, a US citizen, was turned over to ICE, where she was detained. Here is her story.

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