Thomas Warziniack was born in Minnesota and grew up in Georgia, but immigration authorities pronounced him an illegal immigrant from Russia.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has held Warziniack for weeks in an Arizona detention facility with the aim of deporting him to a country he’s never seen. His jailers shrugged off Warziniack’s claims that he was an American citizen, even though they could have retrieved his Minnesota birth certificate in minutes and even though a Colorado court had concluded that he was a U.S. citizen a year before it shipped him to Arizona.
On Thursday, Warziniack was told he would be released. Immigration authorities were finally able to verify his citizenship.
“The immigration agents told me they never make mistakes,” Warziniack said in a phone interview from jail. “All I know is that somebody dropped the ball.”
The story of how immigration officials decided that a small-town drifter with a Southern accent was an illegal Russian immigrant illustrates how the federal government mistakenly detains and sometimes deports American citizens.
Rachel Rosenbloom, an attorney at the Center for Human Rights and International Justice at Boston College who’s identified at least seven U.S. citizens whom ICE has mistakenly deported since 2000, believes that the agency should set up a more formal way of handling detainees when they appear to have valid claims of U.S. citizenship. At the very least, she said, ICE could release people such as Warziniack on bond while waiting for immigration judges to hear the cases.
1. Think of how you would go about proving you’re an American if you were picked up in a random sweep, accused of not being a citizen, and the government simply refused to look any documents proving you actually are a citizen. None of us leave the house with a pile of documents, but clearly, it wouldn’t matter even if we did.
2. Given item 1, think of how you would go about proving you’re not an enemy combatant if an illiterate goat-herder picked up in Waziristan and sold to American forces by some local sheikh.
3. How comfortable are you that there aren’t illiterate goat-herders who aren’t enemy combatants sitting in Guantanamo right now?