US Citizen born in Puerto Rico detained as illegal immigrant, what was DHS/ICE thinking?

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NBC Chicago reports that an American citizen resident of the state of Illinois was detained for over three days and faced deportation despite an ID and a birth certificate on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant. Eduardo Caraballo, a U.S. citizen born in the United States was only released upon the intervention of his congressman, Luis Gutierrez. Excerpt below:

Caraballo was born in Puerto Rico, making him a natural-born citizen of the United States. He moved to the mainland as an infant, and now lives in Chicago. Last week, NBC reports that he was arrested in connection with a stolen car in Berwyn. Caraballo maintains his innocence. In any case, when his mother posted bail on Friday, he was not freed. “Instead of being released, he was told by authorities that Immigration and Customs Enforcement was detaining him because he was an illegal immigrant,” NBC reports.

Caraballo spent the weekend in the custody of federal immigration agents. When he presented them with ID and his birth certificate, he says officials were skeptical.
Rep. Gutierrez, a Chicagoan who is himself of Puerto Rican descent, is a long-time advocate of immigration reform.
“In Arizona, they want everybody to be able to prove they’re legally in the country. They want everybody to prove that they’re an American citizen. Here we had an American citizen, that the federal government… could not determine, for more than three days, his status as an American citizen. It’s very, very, very dangerous ground to tread.”
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office declined to answer specific questions about Caraballo’s case, but in a statement released Monday afternoon said that he was released once his citizenship was confirmed.

Had the reporters pushed harder, the Spokesman would have told them the case could not be discussed further due to the Privacy Act. Oops, wait! The Privacy Act of 1974 only protects American citizens and legal immigrants!

But this got me thinking – if it takes DHS/ICE over three days to confirm the identity of an American citizen when records are obviously available, how long would it take for that office to confirm a non-American’s identity? I’m thinking about some real bad guys here.  Below is a quick blurb of what DHS/ICE is tasked with:

“ICE is the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, and the second largest contributor to the nation’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (after the Federal Bureau of Investigation).”

It is the agency “responsible for identifying, investigating, and dismantling vulnerabilities regarding the nation’s border, economic, transportation, and infrastructure security.”

This man, Mr. Caraballo was arrested in connection with a stolen car. True or not, that is for the courts to decide. But under our laws, even individuals accused of crimes have rights not the least of which is the posting of bail.  In United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739 (1987), the Supreme Court held that the only limitation imposed by the bail clause is that “the government’s proposed conditions of release or detention not be ‘excessive’ in light of the perceived evil.”

The mother of the accused reportedly was not allowed to post bail.  According to the NBC report, Caraballo was “told by authorities that Immigration and Customs Enforcement was detaining him because he was an illegal immigrant.”

That must be because if you’re an illegal immigrant and allowed to post bail, you may not show up for your date in court? So all the confusion must have something to do with his birth in Puerto Rico?

Okay so — did ICE think he was an illegal immigrant because his birth certificate says he was born in Puerto Rico? And had ICE actually deported him, would they have sent him back to Puerto Rico?  Oh, no….

But, but — surely ICE officers know some basic facts about Puerto Rico?

That Puerto Rico, officially known as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (or “Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico” in Spanish — literally according to Wikipedia the “Associated Free State of Puerto Rico), is a self-governing, unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the northeastern Caribbean Sea, east of the Dominican Republic and west of the Virgin Islands?

That during the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico was invaded by the United States and as an outcome of the war, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, along with Cuba, the Philippines, and Guam to the U.S. under the Treaty of Paris?

Didn’t know that, huh?

How about this — Puerto Rico’s head of state is the President of the United States, Barack H. Obama?

Or that Puerto Rico is represented in the United States Congress by a nonvoting delegate?

Finally, this one — a pass/fail for ICE officers — ever heard of the Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917 where Puerto Ricans were collectively made U.S. citizens by the United States Congress?

It’s no wonder that Ray Suarez recently lamented that “To be Puerto Rican is to be misunderstood.” He writes:

“After 93 years as American citizens, after 112 years after US forces took the island from the Spanish Empire, Puerto Ricans are still strangers to the vast majority of their countrymen.”

Pardon me? ICE knows that Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States?  Of course, silly me.  It must also know that Puerto Rico has enacted a New Birth Certificate Law last year aimed at “strengthening the issuance and usage of birth certificates to combat fraud and protect the identity and credit of all people born in Puerto Rico.”

“Under the new law, all Puerto Rico birth certificates issued before July 1, 2010, will be invalidated so that new, more secure certificates can be issued. Until that date, all birth certificates will remain valid.”

I supposed you want to give ICE a pass for almost deporting this guy?

This one also from the Government of Puerto Rico: “It is important to understand that there is no need to rush out and get a new birth certificate on July 1.  It is suggested that only people who have a specific need for their birth certificate for official purposes need request a new birth certificate right away.”

Why was he detained again?

DHS/ICE is in a dicy public relation situation here.  If the agency admits to an error relating to Mr. Caraballo’s birth in Puerto Rico, it would show a gaping hole in the basic knowledge of its arresting/detention officers.  If it uses the new birth certificate law as excuse/shield/defensive arts trick and consider the b/c presented invalid, it would seem the agency is 30+ days ahead of a law that has yet to take effect. If it’s neither of the above, it will be called names for detaining somebody based on his looks.  As Mr. Caraballo said: “Because of the way I look, I have Mexican features, they pretty much assumed that my papers were fake.”

ICE, of course, can always say — the guy was arrested on a Friday and was released the very next working day, which was Monday. But that might make us (and those bad guys) think that ICE stops working on weekends.  Also a thought — had the Congressman not intervene, and the press did not hear about this, which foreign country would Mr. Caraballo have called from? No, there is no US Embassy in San Juan.      

This puts DHS/ICE in a rather sharp kimchi. I supposed it won’t hurt to publicly apologized and take real measures to ensure that this does not happen again. Because this has happened before to Mark Lyttle who was deported to Mexico (and ended up in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala before he was repatriated to the United States by US Embassy Guatemala only to be re-arrested at another US port of entry). And Johann Francis who was deported to Jamaica. And they’re not the only ones.