This month Mark Lyttle, an American citizen from North Carolina who has mental disabilities, received a 175 thousand dollar settlement from the federal government. A federal district court in Georgia found the government wrongfully deported him Mexico.
In 2008 Lyttle was inexplicably referred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement as an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. That’s despite the fact the bi-polar man had never been to Mexico, shares no Mexican heritage and spoke no Spanish.But he was detained and deported to Mexico with just three dollars in his pocket.
Azadeh Shahshahani with the Georgia ACLU , which represented him, says Lyttle spent 125 days wandering central America.
She says he was" living off the streets and homeless shelters, and begging. And he had no way to prove his identity either, so he was imprisoned at times.“
Ultimately, someone with the American Embassy in Guatemala helped him get back to the U.S.
ICE has refused comment on Lyttle’s case. A spokesman says they now offer a 24-hour hotline to help detainees. ICE personnel will collect information from the individual and refer it to the relevant Field office for immediate action. Shahshahani says that is a good first step. But she says people with mental disabilities need a court-appointed lawyer to ensure their rights are protected during the deportation process.
She says “The ACLU has done a study on documented cases where individuals who could not even remember their own names were left to languish in detention centers with nobody really caring what happens to them until an attorney or advocate discovers their fate.”